Washington D.C., Jul 22, 2008 (CNA) - Cardinal Justin Rigali has written a letter to all members of the U.S. Congress defending conscience protections for pro-life health care workers. According to the cardinal, due to a lack of executive action some institutions may be violating conscience protection laws “without even knowing it.”
Cardinal Rigali, who is Archbishop of Philadelphia and Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities, wrote the July 18 letter in response to a New York Times article about a draft proposal requiring that any program run or funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must certify that it will not refuse to hire nurses and other healthcare workers who object to abortion and abortifacient contraceptives.
News of the proposal prompted criticism from abortion rights supporters. On Friday Sen. Hillary Clinton said the draft was a "gratuitous, unnecessary insult" to women.
While noting that he was not specifically responding to the reported proposal, Cardinal Rigali said some of the proposal’s critics had made “sweeping” charges that did not acknowledge the legal tradition of freedom of conscience in health care. He said legal conscience protections in health care are not new, having been in force since at least the 1973 “Church amendment.”
However, Cardinal Rigali argued, conscience-protection statues have not been clarified or enforced through regulations. “Relatively few policy makers or health care personnel are even aware that these laws exist… some institutions may be violating the law without even knowing it,” he wrote.
Referring to the 2007 decision of the Ethics Committee of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which issued an opinion stating that pro-life physicians must provide abortion referrals, he said the college had to be reminded by the Secretary of Health and Human Services that federal conscience protection laws have directed against such requirements.
“It seems the statutory policy is clear and needed, and at the same time is relatively unknown, misunderstood, and unenforced,” the cardinal wrote, saying that implementing such statues is a “proper task” of the federal executive branch.
Cardinal Rigali said critics of the reported draft revealed a reversal in pro-abortion groups’ rhetoric. Despite having insisted that abortion and its related services are “basic” aspects of health care that are opposed only by a tiny minority, the cardinal argued, pro-abortion groups now claim that conscientious objection to such procedures is “so pervasive in the health care professions that policies protecting conscience rights will eliminate access to them.”
“Obviously these two claims cancel each other out,” the cardinal asserted, adding that patients with pro-life convictions deserve access to health care professionals who “do not have contempt for their religious and moral convictions or for the lives of their children.”
Self-described “pro-choice” advocates, he said, must address whether they agree that abortion is a “moral concern” or at least whether they hold that “freedom of choice” must belong to everyone, including those with deep moral concerns about abortion.
He concluded his letter with a rhetorical question: “Or is the ‘pro-choice’ label a misleading mask for an agenda of actively promoting and even imposing morally controversial positions on those who conscientiously hold different views?”
Manila, Philippines, Jul 22, 2008 (CNA) - Thousands of Catholic faithful are expected to attend a prayer rally and march at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila on Friday in protest of a proposed population policy. Some policy provisions would permit government funding for artificial birth control, while others would fully fund tubal ligations and vasectomies. The bill also proposes a non-mandatory “two child policy” and requires employers in collective bargaining agreements to fund contraceptives.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said in a statement that the rally and march will be a movement of Christian believers who oppose “immoral” policies. The event coincides with the fortieth anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae.
“It will be a bit festive because of the Humanae Vitae’s fortieth year but very militant as well,” said Father Melvin Castro, executive secretary for the CBCP’s Commission on Family and Life. “It is our way of telling our legislators strongly but respectfully that we are in opposition of these bills,” he continued.
Members of over 45 lay and religious Catholic groups will attend the three-hour rally, which will include a Mass celebrated by several clergymen, including Angel Lagdameo, Archbishop of Jaro and CBCP President. The event will also feature testimonies and talks from clergymen, married couples and experts on Humanae Vitae, including the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Gaudenico Rosales.
Father Castro said the rally could be the prelude to many others if Congress approves the bill, whose full name is an “Act providing for a national policy on reproductive health, responsible parenthood and population development.”
According to Father Castro, the bill is moving through the lower House with “great speed.”
Attorney Jo Imbong, executive secretary of the CBCP Legal Office, said the bill would fully fund tubal ligations and vasectomies for indigent patients and others as part of PhilHealth benefits. She reported that the bill also defines hormonal contraceptives, intrauterine devices, and other contraceptives as “essential medicines.”
It also proposes that taxpayer-funded Mobile Health Care Service vans provide birth control methods in all congressional districts.
Fenny Tatad, executive director of the Bishops-Legislators Caucus of the Philippines, criticized the bill’s requirement that some employers provide contraceptives for employees and also its two-child policy.
“This and all the above-mentioned proposals are considered gross violations of the pro-family provisions of the Constitution and the universal right to health of citizens,” Tatad said. “Public funds coming from Catholic taxpayers will fund these programs which is oppressive and in violation of their universal right to religious freedom and the freedom to live their faith in an environment that is free of coercion and harassment.”
Harare, Zimbabwe, Jul 22, 2008 (CNA) - Although President Robert Mugabe and opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara signed an agreement to end the “polarization, divisions, conflict and intolerance” on Monday, Zimbabweans are still reeling from the crackdown by Mugabe’s political allies. Some citizens fear that more violence is yet to come.
The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) relates the experiences of one eyewitness to the brutal political persecutions who requested anonymity out of concern for his safety.
"Two weeks ago,” the man recalled, “we celebrated the opening of the Year of Saint Paul in our parish with a solemn Holy Mass -- at exactly the same time as the Holy Father was celebrating the Vespers of the vigil of the feast in the church of Saint Paul's-Outside-the-Walls in Rome.”
According to the source, Zimbabweans are coming to Mass despite transportation difficulties because, “in praying and singing, the people are able to forget not only their worries but even their aching limbs and open wounds, at least for a few hours.”
After Mass, this eyewitness met an acquaintance of his--a young woman somewhere in her mid-20s—who was brutally beaten just a few days previously by ZANU PF militants. “Two of her fingers were broken, as she attempted to protect her head and her face from the blows of the clubs, and several of her ribs were cracked. Her back and legs were covered in black angry bruises.”
Another more serious attack involved the torture and murder of a young man who had considered becoming a religious and a priest, and was very active in the Catholic youth movements. Due to the fact that he had been working as a driver for the opposition party, he was kidnapped during the night about four weeks ago.
The young man’s body was discovered 10 days ago, maimed and burned, on a farm belonging to an army general. He had obviously been horribly tortured before his death. They had put out both his eyes and poured burning plastic over his back.
According to ACN’s source, “photographs of his body were shown to Gordon Brown during the G8 summit in Japan, and he showed them to the other heads of state at the summit.” The Zimbabwean man said that, “If these pictures have contributed to the summit statement on Zimbabwe, then the death of this courageous young Christian will not have been entirely in vain. Despite this, the people here are very, very angry.”
The most recent figures for the economic situation are also contributing to the anger and desperation being felt in Zimbabwe. Inflation stands at more than 2.2 million percent, unemployment at 80 percent and basic food stuffs are disappearing from the shelves of supermarkets.
One major Internet service provider, ZOL, no longer accepts Zimbabwe dollars and requires its customers to pay their bills with shares of Zimbabwe’s largest insurance provider Old Mutual or with diesel coupons.
Some locals are hoping that the latest news will signal a turn of events for the beleaguered country.
A security officer at a Harare hotel told the BBC that people are looking forward to making sure "people are having enough food and they are having enough medication from the hospitals."
However, ACN’s eyewitness sees violence lurking under the surface of Mugabe’s recent overtures of peace. He recalled that, “A British reporter, who tried to elicit details about the run-off election at the African Union summit in Egypt a week ago, was actually physically attacked by our president. Here too one can see the very dangerous side of this man, who now only breathes violence, talks violence, does violence -- so compulsively that for a brief moment he himself can forget his dignity as a head of state – for the sake of which he has after all declared war on his own people.”
Vatican City, Jul 22, 2008 (CNA) - African members of the Pontifical Council for Culture as well as bishops in charge of the pastoral care for cultures will convene in Bagamoyo, Tanzania for a meeting on July 23-26 to discuss evangelization and the impact of secularization in Africa.
The meeting, convened by Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, will focus on the theme: “Pastoral Prospects for the New Evangelization in the Context of Globalization and its Effects on African Cultures.” The meeting will form part of a series of initiatives designed to promote the “pastoral approach to culture in different parts of the world."
According to a release about the event, the council will look at how “the Church strives to promote the inculturation of the faith along with a new Christian humanism which will allow men and women in Africa to be fully African and fully Christian.”
The final talk, “The Church, Family of God, Responding to the Challenges posed by Globalization's Diffusion of Cultural Models Foreign to African Cultures,” will be led by Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture and president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar.
The meeting will take place at the Catholic Cultural Center, “Bagamoyo,” which is run by the Spiritan Fathers in Tanzania. Bagamoyo was one of the major ports of the slave trade, where slaves were brought from Central and East Africa to be sent to the markets of Zanzibar.
"While choosing the theme," says the release, "the organizers have not overlooked the fact that secularization involves a modern form of slavery, neither less oppressive nor less damaging to the dignity of the human person.”
"The Church," the statement concluded, "is conscious of the fundamental cultural dimension of sustained development, indispensable for the future of the African continent. Therefore, particular weight will be given to the cultural values present in Africa which are at the service of the dignity of the human person."
Jerusalem, Israel, Jul 22, 2008 (CNA) - In the Jubilee Year of 2000, Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land stopping at one point to bless an olive tree on the Mount of the Beatitudes. A forester with the Jewish National Fund reports that this tree is the only one producing olives this year.
"It is a miracle," Yossi Karni from the JNF, which maintains the plot, told local media.
During a visit to northern Israel, in March of 2000, the late Pontiff blessed an olive tree that was planted on the Mount of Beatitudes, which was previously called Mt. Eremos. According to tradition, Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount on this mountain, which is located near the Sea of Galilee.
Israel is currently facing what Uri Shani, Israel’s Water Authority director, called “the worst crisis in 80 years.” “Israel's major sources of drinking water, including the Sea of Galilee and the mountain aquifer, are below their ‘red lines,’ meaning they are not recommended to draw water,” he said at a news conference last month.
Karni explained that all the trees on the plot were treated equally, but the ones that did not receive the blessing have not given fruit this year.
"They get treated the same, watered the same," he said, adding that some trees had even started to wither, which he could not explain.
When he was asked what he would do with the olives, Karni told Israel's Channel 10 he might market their "holy oil."
Boston, Mass., Jul 22, 2008 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Boston has issued a statement in response to a group that planned and performed an ordination ceremony for three women in Boston on Sunday. In the July 18 statement the archdiocese’s vicar general, Father Richard Erikson, explained Catholic teaching on the male-only priesthood and said the group, which calls itself Roman Catholic Womenpriests, is “not an entity of the Roman Catholic Church.”
Roman Catholic Womenpriests held an alleged ordination ceremony of three women at a Boston-area Presbyterian church.
In its statement the Archdiocese of Boston said: “The Catholic Church is made up of women and men, equal in rights and diverse in gifts and ministries. Following our devotion to Mary, the Church is committed to, and sustained by the many important contributions of women each and every day.”
The statement said that women help shape the course of the Church as members of religious communities, lay members in leadership roles, educators, canon lawyers, and service providers in “many other critical areas.”
However, the archdiocese explained, “the ordination of men to the priesthood is not merely a matter of practice or discipline within the Catholic Church, but rather, it is part of the unalterable Deposit of Faith handed down by Christ through his apostles.”
Reiterating that Roman Catholics Womenpriests is not an entity of the Catholic Church, the archdiocese said “Catholics who attempt to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the women who attempt to receive a sacred order, are by their own actions separating themselves from the Church.”
The statement emphasized that the Church is “prepared and eager” to welcome those who want to reconcile with the Church, saying the archdiocese prays that those who have “willingly fallen away from the Church” through the attempted ordination will willingly return to the “community of believers.”
Washington D.C., Jul 22, 2008 (CNA) - The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has launched “Natural Family Planning Awareness Week” to promote Catholic teaching about human sexuality, marital love, and responsible parenthood as the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae approaches.
The Awareness Week lasts from July 20 to July 26, with its final two days falling on the fortieth anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, July 25, and the July 26 Feast of Sts. Anne and Joachim, the parents of the Virgin Mary.
Natural Family Planning (NFP) uses a variety of methods for married couples to determine the signs of a woman’s fertility to help conceive a child, or for serious reasons, to avoid a pregnancy, but still maintaining an openness to life.
A section dedicated to Natural Family Planning Awareness Week is published on the USCCB web site, presenting posters, articles, prayers and liturgies, couples’ stories, and relevant church teaching. This year’s NFP Awareness Week poster bears the motto “Freely, Totally, Faithfully.”
“The Church teaches that the sacrament of marriage symbolizes Christ’s relationship with His Church,” the site says in its prayers and liturgies section. “What is this relationship but one of generous, self-sacrificing passion-filled and fruitful love! When couples live their vocation according to Church teachings, especially with regard to the transmission of life, many benefits can be reaped.”
The site claims that couples who use NFP report better communication, deeper understanding of each other’s bodies, growth in respect for God’s gift of fertility and children, increased patience and maturity and growth in holiness.
The NFP Awareness Week site is located at http://www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/nfp/nfpweek/
Brasilia, Brazil, Jul 22, 2008 (CNA) - Brazilian media outlets are reporting that a study using adult stem cells to cure “type one” diabetes has been put on hold for two years by the country’s Ministry of Health department.
According to pro-life sources, lobbyists who support the use of embryonic stem cells are blocking what could be successful research with adult stem cells. The newspaper Gazeta de Ribeirao reported that the study is being paralyzed by the Commission on Ethics in Research for the Ministry of Health in Brasilia, which has not yet granted approval for the research.
The research would be carried out by experts at the University of Sao Paulo.
According to one of the researchers, endocrinologist Carlos Eduardo Barra Couri, the procedure doctors want to try is revolutionary, economical and more comfortable for type 1 diabetes patients. The treatment is based on the use of adult stem cells, not embryonic stem cells, and is designed to regenerate the pancreas and prevent auto-immune rejection.
“It’s a shame that it takes so long to approve an experiment as important as this one. The lives of many people could be changed,” Couri said.
Researchers at the University of Sao Paulo are currently using a treatment using adult stem cells which eliminates the use of insulin, but it requires chemotherapy, thus weakening the patient’s immune system and making him or her vulnerable to sickness.
Patients also suffer all of the normal side effects of chemotherapy, including hair loss, vomiting and weakness. It can only be used on patients under the age of 12 who have been suffering from diabetes for at least 42 days.
Data from Brazil’s Ministry of Health indicates that every 10 seconds someone in Brazil dies as a consequence of diabetes, and that every 10 seconds 6 more people acquire the disease.
Brasilia, Brazil, Jul 22, 2008 (CNA) - Commenting on the recent birth of a baby who developed outside his mother’s womb, one of the doctors present at the delivery, Waldemir Rezende, said that the extraordinary results of the medical intervention show that it is always possible for science to save both the mother and the child.
Brazilian media has been following the case of Maria Benedita, whose difficult pregnancy could have ended in abortion but instead ended with the birth of a healthy baby.
In an interview with the Catholic News Agency, Dr. Rezende said that in cases such as Benedita’s, (which are 1 in 40,000 pregnancies), “the risks always exist and are great, but nature is wise and can help us find solutions for the different problems we encounter along the way.”
He added that during the entire process, Maria Benedita trusted the doctors caring for her from the time she arrived at the hospital, and today she is a happy mother of a baby boy. He called the incident a miracle of life and science.
Asked if the mother’s life was ever in danger during the pregnancy, Dr. Rezende said, “Although in these situations there is always the risk of hemorrhaging, perforation of intestine, spleen or stomach, maternal or fetal infection, everything turned out okay because each step during the process was carefully calculated.”
“We performed x-rays to find the exact location of the placenta. After this analysis we concluded that the location where the fetal tissue was implanting would not pose any mortal risk to the mother or to the fetus. For this reason the successful delivery was scheduled for the 32nd week of pregnancy,” Dr. Rezende explained.