Archive of August 11, 2008

Pope: priests must confront tensions of their ministries, improve catechesis

Vatican City, Aug 11, 2008 (CNA) - The Holy See’s Press Office released the transcript this weekend of a question and answer session Pope Benedict XVI held with priests from Bolzano-Bressanone, where he is spending his vacation. Among the issues addressed by the Holy Father was the way in which priests should address tensions within their ministries, as well as the administration of the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation to nominal Catholics.

During the meeting, which took place at the local Cathedral, Pope Benedict XVI said in response to the tensions priests experience in their ministry, “two fundamental aspects” need to be considered: “On the one hand, the irreplaceability of the priest,” who is “completely dedicated to the Lord and therefore totally dedicated to man,” and “on the other hand—and this is even more important today—the multiplicity of charisms and the fact that together they make up the Church.”

After explaining the need to show young people that priests can “serve others in an important way,” the Pope emphasized that celibacy only has meaning “if we truly believe in eternal life and if we believe that God helps us.”

He also said that faced with very busy schedules, it is important that priests “have the courage to limit themselves and the clarity to set their priorities,” the most important one being “the time a priest spends with the Lord and therefore having time for prayer.”

Prayer helps the priest “to learn what is truly essential, to learn where my presence is truly needed as a priest and where I cannot delegate to anybody.  And at the same time I should humbly accept that there are many things and moments that require my presence but that cannot be done because I recognize my own limitations.  I think that such humility will be understood by people,” the Pope said.

“And with this there is something else I should understand: how to delegate and call others to collaborate,” he added.

Commenting later on the loneliness that priests often experience, Benedict XVI recalled that priests are “a true community of brothers who should sustain and help one another” in order to avoid the danger of “isolation in loneliness and sadness, and therefore it is important we get together regularly.”

“No priest is a priest all by himself. We are a presbyterate and only in this communion with the bishop can each one carry out his service,” the Pope added.

Catechesis for the Sacraments

In response to another question about what do with the children and young people who request First Communion and Conformation but do not appear to be ready to persevere in the faith, Benedict XVI confessed that “when I was younger I was stricter. I said, the sacraments are the sacraments of the faith, and therefore where there is no faith, there is no praxis of faith, and thus the sacrament cannot be conferred. And I discussed this latter with my priests when I was Archbishop of Munich. (…) As time has gone on I have come to understand that we must follow always the example of the Lord, who was very open to those on the fringes of Israel at that time as well, He was a Lord of mercy, very open—according to many official authorities—with sinners, embracing them and allowing himself to be welcomed at their dinners, attracting them to communion with Him.”

“If we can perceive even a flicker of desire for communion in the Church, a desire also of these children who want to enter into communion with Jesus, I think it is fair to be more generous. Naturally of course, one aspect of our catechesis should be to make it understood that Communion, First Communion, is not an ending event, but rather demands a continual friendship with Jesus, a journey with Jesus,” the Pope continued.

“In these sense, naturally we should do everything possible in the context of the preparation of the sacraments, in order to reach the parents as well and thus make them aware of the journey they are on with the children. They should help their children to follow their own desire to enter into friendship with Jesus,” the Holy Father said.

“If parents have the desire for their children to make their First Communion, this desire, often a social one, should be extended to a religious desire, in order to make a journey towards Jesus possible,” the Pope stressed.

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'Render Unto Caesar' answers crucial questions about intersection of faith and politics

Rome, Italy, Aug 11, 2008 (CNA) - On August 12, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver will release his latest book, which focuses on a question of undeniable importance for Catholics in the U.S. but also around the world: What is the role of faith in the public square? Fr. Robert Imbelli, a Boston College associate professor of Theology, gives readers an insightful and well-written review of the archbishop’s book, which will be published in L’Osservatore Romano.

By Fr. Robert Imbelli

This new book by the Archbishop of Denver, Colorado, though addressed primarily to his fellow Catholics, will also serve to foster a much-needed conversation both within and outside the Church. Moreover, it appears at a particularly significant time: the eve of one of the most important presidential elections in recent American history.

One can read the book on several levels, each illuminating the other. The first level is indicated by the book’s subtitle: “serving the nation by living our Catholic beliefs in political life.”

Central to the author’s position is that faith, though intensely and constitutively personal, is never private. Relationship with God through Jesus Christ is inseparably relationship with others in Jesus Christ, as the great judgment scene in chapter twenty-five of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew makes abundantly clear.

But, even beyond this, biblical faith always has social and even political implications. Anyone who takes seriously the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament readily acknowledges this. And the fulfillment of revelation in Jesus Christ only intensifies the believer’s vocation to foster the coming of the Kingdom in every dimension of human life.

The Catholic Church’s social teaching, from Leo XIII’s "Rerum Novarum," through Vatican Two’s "Gaudium et spes," to Benedict XVI’s recent Address to the United Nations, is the ongoing application of this prophetic tradition to the changing contexts of world history. Archbishop Chaput’s own conviction finds expression with these words: "The Church claims no right to dominate the secular realm. But she has every right – in fact an obligation – to engage secular authority and to challenge those wielding it to live the demands of justice. In this sense, the Catholic Church cannot stay, has never stayed, and never will stay 'out of politics.' Politics involves the exercise of power. The use of power has moral content and human consequences. And the well-being and destiny of the human  person is very much the concern, and the special competence, of the Christian community (pp. 217-218).

On the other hand, there are influential voices, both in the United States and in Europe, that try to reduce religion and faith to a private preference that has no public role to play. They thereby seek to construct, what one critic calls, a “naked public square,” thereby domesticating religion and totally secularizing the public realm.

For Archbishop Chaput such a strategy not only denatures religion, and especially Catholicism, it stands in profound contradiction with the historical uniqueness of the American “experiment in democracy.” The so-called “wall of separation” between Church and State in the United States (a phrase often misleadingly invoked) was never intended to exclude the full engagement of believers in the political and civic life of the nation. And the American Constitution’s injunction against the “establishment” of religion was a precious protection against the unwarranted intrusion of the State into religious affairs.

The author draws significantly upon the thought of the late theologian, John Courtney Murray, S.J., who played a considerable role at Vatican II in the elaboration of the  Council’s pioneering Declaration on Religious Liberty, "Dignitatis humanae." Murray argued (and Chaput agrees) that the founding documents of American democracy drew upon a natural law vision that affirms universal truths about the human condition. Thus Catholics, with their commitment to the natural law tradition, have a crucial contribution to make to American public life and the political process. Indeed, how can one possibly contribute to the common good unless one brings to the discussion and debate one’s deeply held values and moral convictions?

Moreover, the most authoritative figures in the Catholic tradition, like Saint Thomas Aquinas, recognize the legitimate autonomy of the secular. “Caesar” has a legitimate claim to the loyalty and dedication of citizens. But that loyalty can never usurp the obedience and worship due to God alone.

Archbishop Chaput dedicates a moving chapter to the English saint, Thomas More, whom Pope John Paul II called “the heavenly patron of statesmen and politicians.” The greatness of More lies in his courageous struggle to remain loyal to his duty to his earthly sovereign, while never compromising his ultimate dedication to the dictates of his conscience as reflective of his obedience to his heavenly King. As is well known, this integrity ultimately cost More his life; but his witness remains a powerful force and inspiration for all seeking to enlighten the social order with the light of the Gospel.

Thus the second level at which the book may be read is as an appeal to American Catholics to recover a robust and comprehensive understanding of their own faith tradition.

Too often, in the forty years since the Council, Catholics find themselves divided by selective appeals to one or another aspect of the Tradition. This tendency to choose selectively has been termed “cafeteria Catholicism,” and has only been exacerbated by the growing individualism of a consumer-oriented American society. Then, instead of being a “leaven” within Society, there is the risk of an indiscriminate accommodation to contemporary culture that weakens the Church’s evangelical witness. The author issues a blunt challenge to his fellow Catholics: “As Catholics, we need to take a much tougher and more self-critical look at ourselves as believers; at the issues underlying today’s erosion of Catholic identity; and at the wholesale assimilation – absorption might be a better word – of Catholics by American culture” (p. 184).

In effect, Archbishop Chaput is setting before his compatriots the same challenge that St. Paul posed to his fellow citizens of the Roman Empire. “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect” (Rom 12:2).

Key here is the virtue of discernment – always a demanding task. Yet it would be naïve not to admit that authentic discernment poses particular problems in our own day when the influence of the media is so pervasive. With all the benefits that instant communications provide, they can also, by their addiction to sound bites, detract from the necessary reflective weighing of evidence that alone fosters insight. In addition, so much of popular media (music, movies, video games) promotes entertainment of an escapist or violent nature, desensitizing and darkening conscience. No wonder that Archbishop Chaput several times appeals to the analysis of the late cultural critic, Neil Postman, whose study bears the ominous title: "Amusing Ourselves to Death."

Chaput’s realistic assessment of the challenge that lies before us issues in a renewed appreciation of the cost of discipleship. He invokes figures like the German Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, and the Vietnamese Catholic bishop, later Cardinal, F.X. Nguyen Van Thuan to serve as exemplary witnesses of what a courageous following of Christ may entail. In the face of their faithful witness our propensity to facile compromises can appear as betrayal.

Finally, the ultimate criterion of life-giving discernment for a Christian can only be the Lord Jesus himself. He is the whole treasure of the Church; the Gospel of life we are called to share. The author writes: "The Catholic faith is much more than a set of principles we agree to, but rather an entirely new way of life. People must see that new life being lived. They must see the joy that it brings. They must see the union of the believer with Jesus Christ (p. 190).

Lastly, the third level at which the book may be read is as a reading of the Second Vatican Council. Though he does not employ the term or even treat the issue ex professo, the Archbishop clearly reads Vatican II through the lens of a “hermeneutic of reform” within the Church’s millennial Tradition.

In face of frequent appeals to the “spirit” of the Council, he forthrightly affirms: “The teaching of Vatican II exists first and foremost in the council documents themselves. No interpretation of the council has merit unless it proceeds organically from what the council actually said, and then remains true to it” (p. 112).

Moreover, what the Council actually said must be understood in the context of its entire body of teaching. Thus, however important the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions ("Nostra aetate") or the Declaration on Religious Liberty ("Dignitatis humanae") may be, they must always be read in the comprehensive context provided by the four “Constitutions” – the major pillars of Vatican II. Specifically, they must be read in light of the Christocentric vision of the Council that receives its orientation from Lumen gentium’s confession that “Christ is the light of the nations” (LG 1) and Gaudium et spes’s joyful affirmation that “Christ fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (GS 22).

It is, of course, true that the focus of the Council’s labors was ecclesiological and that it did not devote a document specifically to Christology. Nonetheless, the Council’s vision was permeated with Christology – and a “high” Christology at that. I have written elsewhere about Vatican II’s Christological “depth grammar:” how all the teaching of Vatican II must be read in light of its confession of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.

I find the same persuasion expressed in Archbishop Chaput’s book. He writes, for example: “We need to root the social dimension of our Catholic faith, and everything else we do, in God’s love, which is the fuel for our mission of evangelization. We can’t offer Catholic social action to the men and women of the world without at the same time offering them Jesus Christ” (p. 193). Catholic mission and Catholic identity are inseparable. And they find sacramental expression in the Eucharist, the source and summit of Catholic life: "Ecclesia de Eucharistia." The Archbishop declares: “The Catholic Church is a web of relationships based on the most important relationship of all: Jesus Christ’s gift of himself in the Eucharist for our salvation. None of us earns the gift of Christ’s love. None of us ‘deserves’ the Eucharist” (p. 223).

In a final chapter the author engages some pressing pastoral issues regarding access to the Eucharist on the part of public figures who advocate positions the church holds to be intrinsically evil, like abortion. The Archbishop’s approach is both pastorally sensitive and theologically cogent. It will help bring clarity to the ongoing conversation and discernment in this delicate matter – one which must be addressed for the sake of the integrity of the faith.

To conclude: Archbishop Chaput has written a book that is informed, measured, civil, and pointed. It should be read, discussed, taken to heart in the United States and beyond. In many ways his message is simple, though certainly not simplistic. He puts the question forthrightly: “What needs to be done by Catholics today for their country?” and his response is equally forthright: "The answer is: Don’t lie. If we say we’re Catholic, we need to prove it. America’s public life needs people willing to stand alone, without apologies, for the truth of the Catholic faith and the common human values it defends (p. 197).

I find here a clear echo of what the Apostle Paul says to the Ephesians as a requirement of their union in Christ. “Therefore, put away all falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Eph 4:25).

Archbishop Chaput’s book, "Render Unto Caesar," can be pre-ordered at both and Barnes and Noble.

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President Bush tells China not to ‘fear the influence of a loving religion’

Beijing, China, Aug 11, 2008 (CNA) - Sunday morning in Beijing, President Bush attended the Beijing Kuanjie Protestant Christian Church.  After the government-established church service, the U.S. president gently encouraged the Chinese government to consider granting religious freedom to its citizens, telling them not to fear Christianity.

The president expressed that he and his wife experienced “great joy and privilege of worshiping here in Beijing, China.”  Bush explained that the service showed “that God is universal, and God is love, and no state, man or woman should fear the influence of loving religion.”

He also thanked the pastor and the choir for the warm welcome he and the first lady received.  “I want to thank the pastor for his hospitality, and I want to thank this beautiful choir for singing Amazing Grace and Edelweiss.  It was a touching moment.  It has been a joy to worship here…God bless you.”

According to China Aid Association Inc, the church’s regular parishioners were not allowed to attend the Sunday service with President Bush.  The organization claims that high-ranking officials from the Public Security Bureau, the Bureau of Security, the Bureau of Religion and TSPM/China Christian Council met to ensure that only security people, political workers and people trained to pose as Christians attended the service.

One man who was baptized two decades ago in the Protestant church lamented, “Whether you are a believer or not, no one is allowed to enter the church.  When President Bush comes tomorrow, where can we do our Sunday service?”

The organization also reports that the Chinese government agencies went so far as to arrest two men while riding their bikes on the way to the service.

The men, who claimed that they had the right to attend the service and see President Bush, are affiliated with an underground Christian church and have been under the close eye of the government in the time leading up to the Olympics. 

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Sick person who suffered accident recounts conversion after traveling to Lourdes

Lourdes, France, Aug 11, 2008 (CNA) - A Spanish man said this week that the pilgrimage he took in 2003 to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes was the beginning point of his conversion and the basis for a new book on his testimony.

Fifty one year-old Antonio Escobedo Garcia’s book “What Joy!” recounts that after suffering a “a grave lesion in the lumbar zone” of his back, a friend invited him to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes. “I agreed not because I thought I was going to be cured, but because I just wanted to get out and see the oaks and yew trees in the area, because I love trees and nature,” he said.

According to the AVAN news agency, Escobedo made the pilgrimage with his wife and experienced “a strong feeling” upon arriving at the Shrine.  “It was moving to see the masses of people from all over the world who were there and the fraternity that was present in the place and that everybody treated each other with,” he said, adding that at that moment he felt interiorly “the need to talk to the Virgin and for her to answer.”

In his book, he said the pilgrimage to Lourdes “did not physically cure my lesion in the lumbar zone, but I did feel a peace like I had never before felt, which has helped me day by day to face my serious pain with joy and serenity.”

Now Escobedo attends Mass every day and prays the Rosary with his wife and his four children. He also promotes the Rosary to hundreds of people in his hometown of Valencia.

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Church proposes more effective approach to AIDS, Spanish bishop says

Madrid, Spain, Aug 11, 2008 (CNA) - In his recent pastoral letter entitled, “The fight against AIDS and the Catholic Church,” Bishop Demetrio Fernandez of Tarazona in Spain said that while the condom is only a “cork,” the Church proposes a comprehensive and more effective approach to confronting the AIDS pandemic.

On the occasion of the 17th International AIDS Conference that just concluded in Mexico, Bishop Fernandez recalled that the disease “has reached alarming numbers—more than 33 million infected—and more than 2 million have died from the disease in 2007, and during that same year 2.5 million new individuals have contracted it. There has never been such an extreme epidemic that has threatened the entire world.”

Bishop Fernandez proposed that the Church’s response to the epidemic be “first of all, caring for the sick.”  “It cannot be said,” he noted, “that the Catholic Church neglects this issue.  As with other infirmities, even contagious ones, the love of Christ has led those who care for those affected to even risk their own lives.”  “The Church loves AIDS patients too, and cares for them with love,” he said.

However, the bishop stressed, “the battle lies in preventing infection.”

“The most common position is that of providing for ‘safe sex’ through the use of condoms. The Catholic Church, however, proposes other, more positive ways.  And that puts her against the tide in seeking the comprehensive good of persons. The condom is a cork, it’s not always effective.  Proposals should lead to educating people in true love,” the bishop said.

“Sexuality is not a toy. Sexuality is the carnal expression of human love, which God has placed in the human heart,” he added.  Therefore, “in this field of AIDS, as in all fields that include the proper use of sexuality, the Church presents the proposal of true love, which brings with it a proper education in the virtue of chastity.”

Bishop Fernandez stressed that young people cannot be encouraged to “make unbridled use of their own sexuality, in the name of greater freedom.  At first this sounds good, but going down this path man becomes a slave of his own selfishness and he will never learn to truly love.”

“Curiously, the statistics on AIDS infection fly in the face of these proposals.  By going down this road we head toward moral ruin,” he warned.

The bishop recalled that “concrete experiences such as that of Uganda, where this proposal has been put in practice at Catholic hospitals, have reduced AIDS infections from 80% to 10%.  No other program has achieved such drastic reductions,” he said.

“The solution to AIDS will come by adhering to God’s plan, who has given to man (man/woman) the gift of sexuality in order to express true love.  To learn to love is true education,” the bishop said in conclusion.

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Ecuadoran president: Spanish socialists were hired to help draft new Constitution

Quito, Ecuador, Aug 11, 2008 (CNA) - On a radio program last week, the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, has repeated his defense of the new Constitution approved by the Constitutional Assembly that would open the door to the legalization of abortion and homosexual unions. But during the same program, he admitted that the government paid two Spanish socialists to help in the drafting of the document.


During the program, Correa again disparaged the Bishops’ Conference of Ecuador for criticizing the Constitution and for launching a campaign to inform voters.


He also confirmed that two Spanish socialists received some $18,000 monthly as “advisors” to the Ecuadoran government in the drafting of the Constitution, which includes language favorable to abortion, homosexual “marriage” and the intervention of the state in the rights of parents to educate their children.


Correa said the advisors were not paid directly, but rather through the institute they belong to, the CEPS Foundation of Valencia, Spain. “$18,000 was paid by the Attorney General’s office, which has financed many advisors,” he said.

The Center for Political and Social Studies (CEPS) in Valencia is a think-tank founded in 1993 by a group of left-wing researchers who support the ruling Socialist party in Spain.

In Latin America, the CEPS has shown sympathy for both the FARC in Colombia and the “Bolivian Revolution” of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.  A recent “report” by the CEPS justified the decision of the Chavez government to suspend the broadcast licenses of an opposition radio and television station.

The activities of the CEPS include supporting feminist organizations and radical left-wing sympathizers of the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia.

According to Ecuadoran pro-life leaders, the presence of Spanish socialists advising the government and paid by public money explains the markedly secularist and anti-life tone of the new Constitution.

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Son of Pius X’s personal butler won gold medal in 1904 Olympic Games

Rome, Italy, Aug 11, 2008 (CNA) - Luigi de Breda, a U.S. citizen of Italian origin, was the son of the personal butler of Popes Leo XIII and Pius X. In 1904 he participated in the sport of water polo in the Olympic Games at St. Louis in the United States, where he won the gold medal.  The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano recently published an article recounting the story of Breda, who “at least ideally, made Vatican City present at the Games.”

Amidst the expectations over the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing, L’Osservatore recalled the story of the son of Francis Montague Handley, who was the private butler of Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius X.

Luigi was born on February 14, 1874 in Rome. According to the article by Maria Maggi, “He was friendly, with ruffled hair, physically well-built and a gentleman.  He spoke Italian, English, French, Spanish and a little Latin and Greek.”

Luigi de Breda was not able to participate in the St. Louis Games as an Italian, despite having lived in Italy for 22 years, but only as an American under the name of Lou Handley.

Luigi, or Lou, used to swim in the Tevere River when it was still uncontaminated by pollution, Maggi explained, since at that time there were no swimming pools. “Historian Bill Mallon in his Encyclopedia of American Olympians would later recall that Lou triumphed in a mixed competition that consisted of six tests: walking, water polo, horsemanship, cycling, canoeing and swimming.  Lou had already set a US swimming record in the 440-yard freestyle.”

“He was exceptional, above all, in water polo. He perfected a new shot, raising himself out of the water, which came to be known as ‘the salmon jump’,” Maggi wrote.

She noted that Lou “played water polo very well much before Johnny Weismuller—famous for playing the role of Tarzan—who won the bronze at the Paris Games of 1924, or Carlo Pedersoli—known more by the Italians as Bud Spencer—who was a key player in Italy’s 5-0 victory over Spain in 1955.”

Luigi Breda was the first coach for women’s water polo at the Anveres Games of 1920 and again at the Paris Games in 1924. He also joined the Swimming Association of New York and remained a member for 40 years. He wrote five books on sports and contributed to writing the section on swimming for the Encyclopedia Britannica. He died in New York on December 28, 1956.

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Possible Casey speech at DNC focuses attention on Democrats’ abortion platform

Washington D.C., Aug 11, 2008 (CNA) - The extent to which the Democratic Party’s support for legalized abortion will alienate Catholic voters is an issue political commentators and politicians are carefully considering in the months before the United States’ national election in November. ...

While Catholic pro-life Democrat Sen. Bob Casey is being considered for a speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Denver this August, any goodwill gained by such a move could be lost if convention delegates approve a proposal that would further establish support for abortion rights in the Democratic party platform.

Sen. Casey, who represents Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate, is the son of former Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey, Sr. At the 1992 Democratic National Convention in New York City, Governor Casey was refused a speaking spot because of his pro-life views. According to the New York Times, many Catholics considered the refusal a slight.

Sen. Casey’s consideration for a speaking slot at the 2008 convention is believed to reflect Democrats’ concerns about their appeal to Catholics, who were once a reliable Democratic voting bloc but decisively favored President George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election. Further, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama badly lost the Catholic vote in his presidential primary race against Sen. Hillary Clinton.

In the key swing state of Pennsylvania, Catholic voters preferred Clinton to Obama by a 40-point margin.

According to the New York Times, DNC Chairman Howard Dean said the choice of Sen. Casey as a convention speaker would be made by Sen. Obama, but claimed any prominent role for Casey would assist Obama’s efforts to appeal to Catholic voters.

Sen. Casey replied to the mention of a speaking slot by saying that he has not yet received a formal offer from Sen. Obama or the Democratic Party, but he added “I think we’ll get something worked out.”

William A. Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, said a Casey speech at the convention could appeal to Catholics, whom Galston considers to be exemplary swing voters.

“I spend a lot of time with Catholic intellectuals, and no matter how liberal they are and inclined to support Democrats, they speak with vehemence about the exclusion of Casey’s father from the 1992 convention,” Galston said to the New York Times. “They don’t accept any of the explanations. I think it would be a dramatic act of historical rectification that would resonate with Catholics.”

Leonard Leo, a director of Catholic outreach for Republicans in 2004 and informal advisor to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, said a Sen. Casey appearance would not sway most Catholics.

“He might get a slight bump from Casey among Catholics generally, but it doesn’t get him all the way there because Casey-the-Younger isn’t his father, and Mass-attending Catholics have figured that out,” Leo argued.

A recent Zogby poll showed Sen. John McCain beating Sen. Barack Obama among Catholics 50 to 34 percent. Last week Zogby polling analyst Fritz Wenzel told CNA that McCain has a “natural advantage” among Catholics because of his pro-life stance.

While the Democratic Party’s platform typically includes a strong endorsement of abortion rights, the version of the platform for 2008 is even more pro-abortion, having dropped a phrase advocating that abortions should be safe, legal and rare.

"The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right," the platform says, according to the Associated Press.

Mark Stricherz, political commentator and author of the book “Why the Democrats are Blue” spoke to CNA about Casey’s possible speaking role and the proposed change in the Democratic platform.

Stricherz said the discussion surrounding Casey is mostly “speculation” because it does not address whether Casey’s speech will have any explicit pro-life content.

“It’s impossible to say what he’s going to do,” Stricherz said, characterizing the report of a Casey speech as a “trial balloon.”

“The Obama campaign wanted to see how the abortion industry and feminists would react to the suggestion of Casey giving a speech,” Stricherz suggested, noting that Obama has had some difficulties with Hillary Clinton’s feminist supporters.

When asked to comment on a hypothetical pro-life DNC speech from Sen. Casey, Stricherz reckoned such a speech would help Catholic Democrats justify their political loyalties.

“Pro-life and Catholic elites, especially the ones who are moderate and liberal, could go to their supporters in the media and say that the Democratic Party has moderated on this issue,” he said.

“Casey’s very important for the pro-life Democratic elite, but I just don’t see how it would have a big effect on voters.”

Stricherz predicted that any speech by Sen. Casey would anger abortion advocates: “They’d be upset. They see themselves as one vote away from their major decision being overturned, it’d really hurt their business.

“I don’t know how many of them think tactically and realize that actually giving Casey a speech at the podium would be a good thing because it would make the party seem more moderate on cultural issues,” he continued. “They just see this in terms of ‘this is hurting our interests.’”

Stricherz said the reported elimination of the “safe, legal and rare” wording from the proposed party platform means “the feminists have even more power over the party platform, if that’s possible.”

The commissions whose members decide the party platform, Stricherz explained, “can mean a lot.” In 1976, he said, “feminists outvoted the Catholics” on a plank concerning Roe v. Wade.

Making general comments about the state of the pro-life cause in the Democratic Party, Stricherz was not optimistic.

“I think that pro-lifers in the Democratic Party are naïve,” he said. “They don’t seem to realize the power of the abortion industry and the feminists in the party. At least publicly, pro-life Democrats’ rhetoric says ‘the party can change if it just does a few things’.”

“No,” Stricherz countered, “the party has to negotiate with the feminists and the abortion industry, and those folks have no interest in negotiating. They’ve got what they want.”

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California judge OKs underage abortion horror stories for voter information pamphlet

Sacramento, Calif., Aug 11, 2008 (CNA) - A California judge has ruled against Planned Parenthood and its allies who challenged the content of a voter information pamphlet’s arguments in support of Proposition 4, a ballot measure requiring abortionists to notify at least one adult relative before performing an abortion on a minor.

The arguments reference the story of “Sarah,” a 15-year-old who died in 1994 after suffering complications from a secretly obtained legal abortion, in addition to stories of other underage girls who obtained abortions without their parents’ knowledge.

Opponents of the pamphlet’s content argued that Sarah’s story should be removed from the pamphlets. They specifically object to the sentence “Had someone in her family known about the abortion, Sarah's life could have been saved.” While a Planned Parenthood lawyer called the claim “absolutely false,” Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael P. Kenny disagreed, the California Catholic Daily reports.

The judge also ruled that the label “Sarah’s Law,” the proponents’ name for Proposition 4, could also be used in the pamphlet.

Challengers objected to other stories included in the pro-Proposition 4 arguments. In one case cited in the pamphlet, a 14-year-old girl on whom a Planned Parenthood clinic had performed a secret abortion was then provided a contraceptive injection at the request of the adult male who brought her in. In another case, a 14-year-old girl was lured from home by a 41-year-old man who made the girl his sex slave and arranged for her secret abortion with a Planned Parenthood affiliate, whose clinic did not report the girl’s victimization.

Judge Kenny refused to remove or to change the stories.

“We made some very, very bold statements – for example that no girl had ever been harmed by a parental notification law -- and Planned Parenthood was simply unable to come up with any evidence that that had ever happened,” said attorney Katie Short, who argued on behalf of Proposition 4 proponents.

Albin Rhomberg, a principal advisor to the Proposition 4 campaign, told CNA on Monday that he was “almost absolutely certain” that a further appeal of Judge Kenny’s decision had not been filed by Planned Parenthood or its allies as of Monday morning.

He told CNA that the deadline for filing voter materials is for the state of California was 5:00 pm on Monday. Rhomberg believed that judges would not allow further legal action concerning the voter pamphlet to delay or impede the election.

If no appeal is successfully lodged, over 13 million pamphlets containing the ballot arguments will be sent out to California voters.

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