Panama City, Panama, Aug 12, 2008 (CNA) - The newspaper El Panama America reported that many Panamanians are upset about the installation of a so-called “Tunnel of Sexuality”—decorated with enormous figures of masculine and female genital organs—in one of the parks most visited by local families.
The controversial display was put in place by the Ministry of Social Development, and according to officials, the aim is “to break the taboos regarding sexuality in adolescents.” It was set up at Omar Park, one of the biggest in Panama City.
El Panama America said it had received dozens of letters from angry readers who said the display was inappropriate and made the children who play in the park uncomfortable. Some visitors to the park called the police to denounce the exhibit.
Gilberto Toro, a researcher at the Ministry of Social Development, defended the exhibit and said it was intended to help teens to see that “sexuality is not dirty and that young people like it.”
Honolulu, Hawaii, Aug 12, 2008 (CNA) - A new Catholic church dedicated to Blessed Father Damien De Veuster is being planned in Hawaii following news that the Vatican has attributed a second miracle to the priest who ministered to Hawaiian lepers.
“I see it as a stop for many pilgrims and visitors who want to learn something about Father Damien and Mother Marianne and the Kalaupapa history,” said Maria Sullivan, parishioner and chair of the Blessed Damien Church Building Fund, according to the Molokai Times.
She added that Hawaii Catholics are excited about Father Damian’s pending canonization, the details of which will be determined in early 2009.
Father Clyde Guerreiro said reaction to plans for the new church has been “very positive.”
“I think many believe a new church would be a welcome addition to Kaunakakai,” he explained.
So far $1.3 million of the budgeted $3 million has been raised, to which will be added the proceeds from a fundraising gala dinner and the hosting of a Country fair.
Father Guerreiro said the new church will need a minimum of 250 seats to accommodate large events and holidays.
The church dedicated to Blessed Father Damian is planned to replace the present church, St. Sophia, was built in 1937 and holds about 150 people.
Francis E. Skowronski, the architect working on the project, has been creating various models with the church, though structural plans have not been finalized.
During his life Bl. Father Damien built four churches on the topside of Molokai.
Los Angeles, Calif., Aug 12, 2008 (CNA) - By a 3-0 decision the California Court of Appeals for the Second Appellate District has reversed its earlier ruling that would have required homeschooling parents to be certified teachers in order to homeschool in California.
In February the court ruled that California’s compulsory education law requires parents to send their children who are ages 6-18 to a full-time public or private school or to have them taught by credentialed tutors at home.
On Friday the same three-judge panel ruled that parents with or without teaching credentials can comply with the law by declaring their home to be a private school, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Parents still must file statements with their local school districts attesting that their children are being educated in all legally required subjects, in English, by a person "capable of teaching."
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said the decision “confirms the right every California child has to a quality education and the right parents have to decide what is best for their children.”
Justice H. Walter Croskey, author of the earlier ruling, wrote in the decision: "Recent statutes indicate that the Legislature is aware that some parents in California homeschool their children by declaring their homes to be private schools."
Judge Croskey noted that a 1998 measure exempting parents from fingerprinting requirements imposed on private school employees indicated “a legislative approval of homeschooling,” the San Francisco Chronicle says.
He added that the 1953 decision applying compulsory education without exceptions has been overruled by real world changes.
"Clinging to such precedent," he said, "would undermine a practice that has been, if not actively encouraged, at least acknowledged and accepted by officials and the public for many years."
The court stated that homeschooling is not an absolute right and may be revoked when children are abused or neglected.
Judge Croskey also advised that California might need to increase its oversight of those educated in home schools, given what he said is “the state's compelling interest in educating all of its children.”
A lawyer for the 330,000-member California Teachers Association in written arguments for the case criticized legally permissive approaches to homeschooling, claiming that unregulated, unsupervised homeschooling is an invitation to “educational anarchy.”
“Parents do not have an unfettered right to dictate the terms of their children's education,” the lawyer asserted, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Homeschooling advocates welcomed the decision.
“This is a great victory for homeschool freedom,” said Michael Farris, Chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and one of the team of attorneys who argued the case before the court. “I have never seen such an impressive array of people and organizations coming to the defense of homeschooling. The team effort was remarkable.”
“Tens of thousands of California parents teaching over 166,000 homeschooled children are now breathing easier this afternoon,” Farris said in a statement.
Bressanone, Italy, Aug 12, 2008 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI has urged Russia and Georgia to end hostilities immediately and begin negotiations, appealing to their “common Christian heritage.”
Catholic charities, meanwhile, are trying to address the refugee crisis provoked by the new conflict.
Conflict over the breakaway province of South Ossetia escalated into military action last week.
Speaking in his Angelus message on Sunday from the northern Italian town of Bressanone where he was vacationing, the Pope noted the “tragic events” taking place in Georgia, saying the military action had affected many innocent victims and forced many civilians to leave their homes.
Pope Benedict called for “an immediate end to military actions” and “in the name of the common Christian heritage” he asked the two nations to refrain from further confrontations that he said could “degenerate into a wider conflict.”
Pope Benedict exhorted the international community and influential countries to “make every effort to support and promote initiatives aimed at reaching a peaceful and lasting solution, in favor of an open and respectful coexistence.”
Before the main square of Bressanone where 9,000 had gathered, the Pope said Catholics were joining Orthodox Christians in prayers for peace.
“Together with our Orthodox brethren, let us pray intensely for these intentions, that we confidently entrust to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus and all Christians,” he said.
The Catholic charity Caritas Internationalis said that thousands have been killed and tens of thousands have been driven from their homes in just a few days of conflict. The charity is delivering food, household items, and counseling to those affected by the fighting, but has also voiced support for an immediate ceasefire.
Caritas Georgia is also trying to provide medical help to the numerous casualties, reporting that hospitals in the Georgian capital of Tblisi could be soon overwhelmed.
Liana Mkheidze, Caritas Georgia Program Manager, said providing food and medical help is a top priority.
“Many people are coming to Tblisi from Georgian villages around Tskinvali and then also from Gori. Their houses have been damaged and they’re escaping the bombardment,” she said, adding that Caritas Georgia has distributed over 1,900 cans of tuna fish, over 400 cans of canned meat, and 500 loaves of freshly baked bread from its own bakery.
Sergey Basiev, director of Caritas Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia, said providing shelter for refugees is their top priority.
“There are lots of refugees seeking shelter. They have nothing. The situation is dreadful. We will try to meet these urgent needs,” Basiev said.
Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Lesley-Anne Knight joined others in calling for a de-escalation of hostilities.
“Russia and Georgia must step back from all out war. Already the conflict has caused too much suffering to thousands of innocent civilians. It will take a huge regional effort to rebuild shattered communities,” Knight said.
“Caritas appeals to both sides to do everything in their power to respect the lives of civilians. Caritas supports the need for humanitarian corridors into South Ossetia as a short term solution, but peace talks must take place now.”
Knight also asked both sides to respect the rights of ethnic minorities to avoid “further escalation in the conflict.”
Trenton, N.J., Aug 12, 2008 (CNA) - The Bishop of Trenton, New Jersey, has responded to an article in the Times of Trenton entitled, “U.S. bishops: Vote your conscience.” In his response, Bishop Smith states that the article trivialized “the issues and voting choices facing Catholics this year,” and failed to provide the readers with an adequate understanding of the U.S. bishops’ document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”
The July 30 issue of the Times of Trenton published an article summarizing the bishop’s statement, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” However, Bishop Smith writes that, the article “failed to provide readers with an adequate understanding of this program and misrepresented the very spirit of the document.”
Explaining that the Times’ summary “is a serious oversimplification,” and that it “undermines the core message of their statement,” Bishop Smith writes “that Catholics are called to form their consciences in order to exercise faithful citizenship.”
The Bishop of Trenton gives a more detailed explanation of what this means in his reply: Forming one’s conscience “requires serious engagement and commitment” that “does not begin or end at the polling booth. We are even told how to form our consciences, beginning with a ‘willingness and openness to seek the truth and what is right through the study of sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church and continuing with an examination of the background related to the choices before us. We are told that forming our conscience also requires ‘prayerful reflection to discern the will of God’ (Section 18).”
“And yet, nowhere in the article is the need to form one’s conscience ever addressed. Instead, readers are led to believe that they should vote on the basis of what they ‘think’ or ‘feel.’ There is no reference to this active process Catholics are instructed to perform. The very essence of what it means to be a ‘faithful citizen’ is omitted,” critiques Bishop Smith.
The bishop also defines “Faithful Citizenship,” explaining that it “is the compilation of general principles applied to the obligation that Catholics have to exercise political responsibility in the light of their faith, regardless of whether it is an election year, and irrespective of the candidates who are running and the issues on which they are basing their campaigns.”
Bishop Smith also took issue with The Times’ inaccurate interpretation of the U.S. bishops’ statement on the weight Catholics should give to different moral issues being debated in elections.
“The Times’ handling of the very delicate and complex challenge of voting also failed to represent the full scope of the Bishops’ instructions. The statement goes into great detail to emphasize that not all issues carry the same moral weight, and that ‘opposing intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions’ (Section 37). The document further cautions against the ‘moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed’ (Section 28).”
The Bishop Smith concludes his response by encouraging the laity to read the full bishops’ statement, which can be found at www.faithfulcitizenship.org.
Mexico City, Mexico, Aug 12, 2008 (CNA) - The president of the College of Catholic Lawyers in Mexico, Armando Martinez, warned this week that implementing the death penalty in the country would constitute a step backwards in the area of human rights and said a better alternative would be to impose life sentences.
Speaking to reporters, Martinez explained the position of the College regarding the approval of the death penalty for kidnappers. “We think the death penalty deters absolutely nobody (from committing a crime). The option of life in prison needs to be studied. If it is not something that is not an infringement, we could accept it,” he said.
Martinez pointed to the United States as an example, where despite the use of the death penalty, “crime and violence continue to be rampant, with 14 year-olds murdering their peers.”
“The death penalty is punishment upon punishment, that is, we would be falling into vengeance, and when will it end? If you kill a criminal, there will be a sense of hatred and vengeance and it will be a circle that never ends,” Martinez argued.
He said that crime can be reduced through education and building a society in which the rule of law is respected.
Havana, Cuba, Aug 12, 2008 (CNA) - The national coordinator of the Christian Life Movement, Oswaldo Paya, has called on Cubans exiles to show their solidarity with those who remain in the Cuba and to demand respect for human rights.
Paya lamented the “double punishment” of Cubans who have left the island nation and are then are neither recognized by the Cuban government or by their new country of residence as citizens of Cuba.
“The respect for the right of Cubans exiles to come to Cuba on the part of the governments of the countries where they live should not be conditioned on changes in Cuba, as that would be to double punishment of the same victim,” he said.
“But Cubans themselves who live outside Cuba should show solidarity with their fellow countrymen and demand all the rights for us Cubans who live here,” he told the Diario de las Americas in a reference to the desired right of Cubans to enter and leave the island freely without restrictions from the Communist government.
“If fear has gotten to those who are overseas and they think they must pay with the price of silence, if not with that of feigned complacency, in order to be allowed to enter their own country as ‘visitors,’ then they are only contributing to the prolonging of the humiliation of all.”
“If they don’t agree,” he added, “let them look at the passport they used to leave Cuba and explain why it says: ‘definitive departure’.”
Paya said this is the reason the Christian Liberation Movement has put forth a proposal to the National Assembly that would recognize the rights of all Cubans, both those on the island and those living in exile.
The proposal would do away with the term “definitive departure” on passports, as well as the confiscation or stripping of properties from Cubans who emigrate. “It would also eliminate the humiliating discrimination Cubans suffer in our own country,” Paya said.
He reminded Cuban exiles that the Castro government was responsible for their rights not being recognized and for them being considered refugees. This has affected many families, Paya said, families which “have been separated and continue to be separated.”
“We will continue here fighting for the rights of all, including those of our beloved and inseparable family of Cubans in the diaspora, who are part of the same Cuban family, which is one, as we are one people,” he said.
Quito, Ecuador, Aug 12, 2008 (CNA) - The Christian Association of Business of Ecuador has convened a massive rosary for August 15, the feast of the Assumption of Mary, to pray to the Mother of God for the future of Ecuador as the country prepares to vote on a new Constitution.
The Association has invited the public to pray the rosary at 5 p.m. local time “for God to enlighten our spiritual leaders, governors and those who will vote in the upcoming referendum.”
In the referendum, scheduled for September, the people of Ecuador will approve or reject a Constitutional reform that, according to the Ecuadoran bishops, opens to the door to the legalization of abortion, homosexual unions, and interference by the state in the decision of parents to educate their children.
Quebec City, Canada, Aug 12, 2008 (CNA) - Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas recently sat down with CNA to talk about his assessment of the involvement of American Catholics in the public forum. According to the archbishop, it’s “very, very critical for Catholics” to become more engaged as citizens, given the societal climate.
There are many issues that are important to us as Catholics, whose fate is “uncertain in the public square right now,” Archbishop Naumann explained.
“At other moments in our history, maybe we look back, and we think they were more serene. But at this moment I think it’s very, very critical for Catholics to take very seriously their responsibility to be active citizens and to bring the values and the virtues of our faith into the public square and into the public debate. … It’s going to be critical in terms of how the Church and other Christians, other believers are able to operate in this society if we are not vigilant at this moment.”
Catholics must be aware that there are efforts to silence the voice of the Church in the public debate, Archbishop Naumann said. “We can’t allow ourselves to be intimidated by them. And we need to exercise our rights and our freedom of speech,” he asserted.
“It’s funny,” Naumann observed, “because those that advocate for the freedom of speech on many, many fronts, when it comes to the Church’s voice, they try to silence it.” In addition to defending these rights, the Kansas City prelate underscored that the Catholics need to make the case for the “great contribution the Church is making to society.”
Public vs. Private life
Archbishop Naumann also addressed the claim made by some politicians that they can hold a view in accord with Church teachings privately but publicly advocate an opposing position.
“I think that they either purposely or unintentionally confuse the issues. Certainly a Catholic in public life should not be trying to impose doctrines of belief and faith on others. So, what we believe about the Eucharist or what we believe about the teaching authority of the bishops or the Pope, these are not things that we should be attempting to enshrine in law. That’s what is legitimately meant about separation of Church and State.”
“But I think where the confusion comes in—the politicians that I think you’re referring to—they bring these [objections] up on not issues of doctrine but of moral values, which also coincide with fundamental human rights.”
For the Archbishop of Kansas City, the labeling of decisions on human rights as doctrinal impositions holds no water.
“When you talk about protecting innocent human life, this is something that we need to do as human beings. And the fact that the Church has a voice on this issue and a position on this issue, doesn’t mean it’s an imposing of our beliefs or values, anymore than the effort to break down segregation by the Church was an effort to impose some kind of religious doctrine on the culture or society, but it was us standing up for a fundamental human right,” said the archbishop.
After mention was made of his recent public request for the Catholic governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius, to refrain from receiving Communion because of her support for abortion, Archbishop Naumann explained that political choices have ramifications for Catholics.
“Unfortunately, for a Catholic, there’s no choice in public life to stand for certain of these issues. And if they can’t be retained in office, then they shouldn’t want to be retained in office, if that’s what is going to have to be compromised to do it.”
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Aug 12, 2008 (CNA) - The government of the predominantly Muslim country of Malaysia has accused The Herald, a Christian weekly newspaper, of violating publication rules by running articles considered political and insulting to Islam.
The Malaysian Home Ministry sent a letter to the Herald’s publisher warning that its June editions had “committed offenses” by highlighting the country’s politics instead of discussing the Christian issues for which it has been licensed. The letter charged the Herald with carrying an article that it said “could threaten public peace and national security” because it allegedly “denigrated Islamic teachings,” the Associated Press reports.
Like all media outlets in the country The Herald, which is the Catholic Church’s main publication in Malaysia, is required to obtain government licenses which must be renewed annually.
Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, denied the allegations.
“We comment on issues. The Pope comments on issues,” he told the Associated Press, saying it is normal for the newspaper to have an “ethical interpretation” of current events and politics.
“I don't think we were in any way going against the type of content we have chosen,” he continued.
Father Andrew said one of the articles in question, titled “America and Jihad: Where do they stand?” was an analysis of circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and had not mocked Islam.
The Home Ministry’s letter warned it “would not hesitate to take sterner action” if the Herald repeats its alleged offenses. One ministry official told the AP that the paper must satisfactorily explain why it ran the articles and must adhere to the rules, or the ministry will suspend its publication.
A representative from the Catholic Asian News, another Malaysian publication, said it also recently received a letter from the ministry warning about its coverage of political issues.
For the past year the Herald has been in a court dispute with the government over its use of the word “Allah” as a Malay translation for the word “God.” The government has argued the usage would confuse Muslims while the newspaper insists it uses the word “Allah” as it has been used for centuries in the Malay language.