Moscow, Russia, Sep 26, 2008 (CNA) - An official with the Moscow Patriarchate has reiterated its position that it is not rejecting talks between Pope Benedict XVI and the Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia. However, it repeats its condition that the problems dividing the two Churches must be addressed first.
"If we forge joint decisions that will help resolve the problems dividing the two Churches, it will not be difficult to find a time and venue for such talks. Many plans have been proposed, and all of them will be assessed, of course," Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the vice-chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, told Interfax-Religion.
He said talks between the heads of both Churches “should not be merely a protocol event or an appealing picture to fill the TV screen, but help relieve believers' pain and concerns, felt in many places.”
The archpriest said that one such concern is the Greek-Catholic Church “artificially expanding its influence” and converting Orthodox Christians.
Solving such problems will open new opportunities to cooperate, the archpriest said.
According to Interfax, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said in an interview with Western media that he would like the Russian Patriarch and the Pope to meet in Belarus, “in the center of Europe and at the junction of the Orthodox and Catholic religions.”
Sacramento, Calif., Sep 26, 2008 (CNA) - A new poll shows that California likely voters tend to support the ballot proposal Proposition 4, which would require abortionists to notify at least one adult relative before performing an abortion on a minor. The proposition is reportedly supported by a 48 to 41 percent margin among likely voters.
Proponents say the initiative would stop teenage girls from obtaining “secret” abortions under pressure from the older adult men who get them pregnant. The proposal is called “Sarah’s Law,” named after a young girl who decided to have an abortion without her family’s knowledge. Her cervix was torn during the procedure and she died as a result.
A new Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll, conducted from September 9 to September 16, showed support for Proposition 4 in a survey of 2,002 adult Californians, including 1,157 likely voters.
The poll, which claims a three percent margin of error for likely voters, reports that 48 percent of likely voters would vote yes on Proposition 4, while 41 percent would vote no. About 11 percent responded that they did not know how they would vote.
Charles Gallagher, campaign manager for the group Yes on 4, said the poll results demonstrate that a “plurality” of voters support “sensible parental notification laws that craft very workable exceptions to protect the health and welfare of adolescent girls.”
“This is not a red state/blue state issue,” Gallagher said in a press release, noting that over 30 states have similar laws.
“The public knows Prop. 4 will confront Child Predators,” he continued. “Adult predator boyfriends often encourage young girls to have an abortion to cover up evidence of statutory rape.”
Gallagher added that the support for Proposition 4 “undoubtedly reflects the fact that current state law requires parents to give permission before their child can get aspirin at school, their ears pierced, or use a tanning salon. Our state's parents sensibly want to be notified if their teenage daughter is getting a surgical procedure terminating a pregnancy.”
“Our message is mainstream. Our challenge is to raise the resources to reach undecided voters who can close the gap on election day.
“The half-truths by our opponents are clearly being rejected by the voters who favor family involvement,” his statement concluded.
Yes on 4 volunteer Margi Pearson spoke to CNA by phone, saying this election’s campaign has had “a lot more press than we did in the past,” adding that more people are available to be spokespersons on radio stations.
She noted that Proposition 4 was even endorsed by the San Diego Union-Tribune, which Pearson characterized as having a very “liberal” or “pro-choice” bent.
Yes on 4 campaign manager Charles Gallagher told CNA in a Thursday phone interview that the proposal has been on the ballot twice before.
“This campaign is different, our message is different,” he said. “We’ve built a coalition of people, people who are pro-life and pro-choice, but our focus is on parental notification.”
Past campaigns, he said, had “turned into an argument over abortion.”
“People hadn’t focused upon the fact that this is about parental notification,” he said, adding that new provisions for minors in abusive situations were added to the ballot proposal to accommodate past objections.
Explaining his claim that the proposal’s opponents have used “half-truths,” he argued the No on 4 campaign is "represented mostly by representatives of Planned Parenthood. They suggest that parental notification in Proposition 4 is about chipping away at Roe v. Wade and a ‘women’s right to choose.’”
Gallagher accused such opponents of using “unnecessary scare tactics” by alleging that the proposal will encourage distressed teens to seek “back alley abortions” or obtain an abortion in Mexico.
“They don’t acknowledge family involvement laws in 30 other states,” he said, stating that 60 percent of the U.S. population lives in states with such laws.
“This is a mainstream proposition,” Gallagher reiterated.
Gallagher said the Latino vote is making a real difference in the campaign, claiming Latinos are “overwhelmingly” in favor of Proposition 4.
He also reported that Latinos have higher registration numbers in this election year.
Nonetheless, he said the passage of Proposition 4 is not certain.
“It’ll be close,” Gallagher told CNA.
The web site of the campaign supporting the proposal is located at www.yeson4.net.
London, England, Sep 26, 2008 (CNA) - The British government has drafted a proposal to end the 300-year-old legal exclusion of Catholics from the British throne. MP Chris Bryant, under instructions from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, has written a planned parliamentary act to revoke the exclusions.
Bryant presented the drafts to advocacy groups at a private seminar in Manchester this week, the Guardian says.
The 1688 Bill of Rights, the Act of Settlement in 1701 and the Act of Union in 1707, combined with the provisions of the Coronation Oath Act of 1688, effectively excluded Catholics or their spouses from the line of royal succession.
In recent years several royals have lost their right of succession because of their marriage to Catholics.
British law also requires the monarch to make a declaration before Parliament rejecting Catholicism upon his or her accession to the throne, the Guardian reports.
The Coronation Oath Act requires the British monarch to "maintaine the Laws of God the true profession of the Gospel and the Protestant reformed religion established by law [...] and [...] preserve unto the bishops and clergy of this realm and to the churches committed to their charge all such rights and privileges as by law do or shall appertain unto them or any of them."
Eight years ago the Guardian had launched a campaign for a change in the law, challenging the Act of Settlement on the legal grounds that it conflicts with the Human Rights Act.
Geoffrey Robinson, a constitutional lawyer who represented the Guardian in its legal challenge, argued that the centuries-old act violates the Human Rights Act’s anti-discrimination provisions and its protections of “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” and the right to “peaceful enjoyment of possessions,” which he construes to mean possession of a place in the royal succession.
“The Act of Settlement determined that the crown shall descend only on Protestant heads and that anyone 'who holds communion with the church of Rome or marries a Papist' - not to mention a Muslim, Hindu, Jew or Rastafarian - is excluded by force of law,” said Robinson.
“This arcane and archaic legislation enshrined religious intolerance in the bedrock of the British constitution,” he continued. “In order to hold the office of head of state you must be white Anglo-German Protestant - a descendant of Princess Sophia of Hanover - down the male line on the feudal principle of primogeniture. This is in blatant contravention of the Sex Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Act."
Any change in legislation would also require the consent of member nations of the British Commonwealth.
The legal campaign appears to be part of a challenge to hereditary monarchy altogether. According to the Guardian, Robinson said the next stage was for the government to challenge the notion of a head of state who achieved the position through inheritance.
Reform of the Act of Settlement and related laws, in some experts’ opinion, would also move Britain towards the disestablishment of the Church of England and remove the rationale for the monarchy’s religious requirements.
London, England, Sep 26, 2008 (CNA) - This week the Archbishop of Canterbury became the first Anglican leader to visit the Marian shrine at Lourdes in France. During his three-day visit, he preached a homily at an international Mass and made remarks which critics construed to mean that he accepted the reality of the Marian apparitions at Lourdes and the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which the apparitions communicated.
One critic called the archbishop’s presence a “wholesale compromise” and labeled him a “papal puppet.”
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had been invited to the shrine by Jacques Perrier, the Catholic bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes. He was joined by an unprecedented pilgrimage of eight Church of England bishops, about 60 Anglican priests and about 400 Anglican laymen and women, a number of whom are considering converting to Catholicism as a result of the theological turmoil in the Church of England.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, celebrated the international Mass.
Lourdes became the most popular shrine in Europe after St. Bernadette Soubirous experienced 18 visions of the Virgin Mary there in 1858. In the apparitions Mary told Bernadette to dig for a spring, which many would come to for healing.
The apparition also described herself to Bernadette as the Immaculate Conception, a doctrine concerning Mary’s preservation from original sin. The doctrine has long been believed by Catholics but was also authoritatively proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854.
Bernadette faced initial skepticism from local Catholic clergy and laymen but was later canonized. Around six million pilgrims, many of whom are ill or dying, visit the Lourdes shrine each year.
Archbishop Williams’ remarks at Lourdes began with a reflection on Mary’s visit to Elizabeth as depicted in the Gospel of Luke.
“Mary comes to visit Elizabeth, carrying Jesus in her womb,” the archbishop said. “The Son of God is still invisible – not yet born, not even known about by Elizabeth; yet Elizabeth recognizes Mary as bearing within her the hope and desire of all nations, and life stirs in the deep places of her own body. The one who will prepare the way for Jesus, John the Baptist, moves as if to greet the hope that is coming, even though it cannot yet be seen.”
He called Mary “the first missionary” who testifies to the importance of “simply carrying Jesus.”
The Anglican archbishop’s remarks appear to acknowledge the reality of the Lourdes apparitions, reading:
“When Mary came to Bernadette, she came at first as an anonymous figure, a beautiful lady, a mysterious 'thing', not yet identified as the Lord's spotless Mother. And Bernadette – uneducated, uninstructed in doctrine – leapt with joy, recognizing that here was life, here was healing. Remember those accounts of her which speak of her graceful, gliding movements at the Lady's bidding; as if she, like John in Elizabeth's womb, begins to dance to the music of the Incarnate Word who is carried by his Mother. Only bit by bit does Bernadette find the words to let the world know; only bit by bit, we might say, does she discover how to listen to the Lady and echo what she has to tell us.”
Archbishop Williams then cited the example of St. Teresa of Avila and the guidance of the “Orthodox spiritual tradition.”
His concluding remarks again touch on St. Bernadette, reading:
“Bernadette’s neighbors and teachers and parish clergy knew all they thought they needed to know about the Mother of God – and they needed to be surprised by this inarticulate, powerless, marginal teenager who had leapt up in the joy of recognition to meet Mary as her mother, her sister, bearer of her Lord and Redeemer… here today, with Elizabeth and Bernadette, we say, in thankful amazement, 'Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?' And we recognize that our heart's desire is met and the very depth of our being stirred into new life.”
The archbishop’s remarks were harshly criticized by Rev. Jeremy Brooks a director of ministry at the Protestant Truth Society, which is a group of Anglicans and nonconformists dedicated to Protestant ideals.
“Lourdes represents everything about Roman Catholicism that the Protestant Reformation ejected, including apparitions, Mariolatry and the veneration of saints,” Rev. Brooks said to the Daily Mail.
“Mariolatry” means the “worship of Mary,” which is sometimes a charge leveled against Catholics by Protestant polemicists.
“The archbishop's simple presence there is a wholesale compromise, and his sermon which included a reference to Mary as ‘the Mother of God’ is a complete denial of Protestant orthodoxy,” Rev. Brooks continued.
“At a time when our country is crying out for clear Biblical leadership, it is nothing short of tragic that our supposedly Protestant archbishop is behaving as little more than a papal puppet,” the clergyman continued.Archbishop Williams’ visit to Lourdes came just one week after Pope Benedict XVI traveled to the Marian shrine.
Caracas, Venezuela, Sep 26, 2008 (CNA) - The Bishops’ Conference of Venezuela issued a statement this week inviting "all Venezuelans to actively and decisively participate in the life of the country, without violence, and with respect for the constitution, law, the rights of all persons." They continued, "we reject the continual creation of a climate of political agitation before the upcoming elections."
In their statement dated September 24, the bishops rejected "all violence and intolerance, whatever its origin, against persons, institutions, and the media. Likewise we reject both the supposed assassination of the President as well as the supposed conspiracy for a coup d’état, and we demand that in a constitutional state the pertinent investigations be carried out."
After requesting the avoidance of any action that puts in danger "the carrying out of elections set for November 23," the bishops demanded that "rights be respected and the security of all who are involved in the electoral campaign be guaranteed, and that the National Electoral Council likewise guarantee absolute transparency of the upcoming elections, as well as equality of opportunity for all the candidates."
On the other hand, they also expressed their concern for the "apparent unconstitutionality of some articles of some of the laws promulgated on July 31" by President Hugo Chavez.
The bishops encouraged all Venezuelans, Catholic and non-Catholic, to "pray insistently to God for Venezuela, so that the future of our country will be developed through paths of freedom, justice, equality, tolerance, peace and what is good."
Vatican City, Sep 26, 2008 (CNA) - Meeting with participants of the Retrouvaille Association, Pope Benedict XVI explained that when a marriage is suffering, the spouses are facing an opportunity that "will help them to grow." Guided by Mary and with the help of the Lord, their love will be purified, deepened and strengthened.
This morning at the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo, the Holy Father received 300 participants of the Retrouvaille Association, an international movement which aims to assist married couples in crisis. In his meeting with them, the Pontiff recalled how the group was formed in Canada in 1977, by husband and wife, Guy and Jeannine Beland, "to help couples in serious crisis to face their problems with a specific program aimed at rebuilding their relationship, not as an alternative to psychological therapies but following a different and complementary route."
The Pope then stressed that though the members are not professionals, they are married couples who have faced similar marital difficulties and have "overcome them with the grace of God and the support of Retrouvaille."
The Holy Father also said that serious marital crisis "is a reality that has two faces. On the one hand, and especially in its most acute and painful phase, it appears to be a failure; this is the negative face. But there is another face, one we are often unaware of but that God sees. In fact, as nature shows us, each crisis is a passage to a new phase of life. At the moment of break-up," he told his audience, "you offer couples ... a positive reference to which to entrust themselves in their desperation."
In this way "your meetings offer a 'handhold' so as not to lose the way altogether and gradually to climb back up the slope."
Finally, the Pontiff concluded by emphasizing the need to carry out this mission of helping married couples in crisis while nourishing "your spiritual life continually, to put love into what you do so that contact with difficult situations does not cause your hope to run dry or be reduced to a mere formula."
New Haven, Conn., Sep 26, 2008 (CNA) - This afternoon, Denver Archbishop, Charles J. Chaput will respond to questions and discuss his recent book, "Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life." In the book, the prelate encourages Catholics to participate in public life, where faith and politics intersect.
In "Render Unto Caesar," published by Doubleday in August 2008, the archbishop urges Catholics to strengthen their voice on issues such as abortion, the death penalty, immigration, poverty, and other social justice issues.
During the internet discussion session, Archbishop Chaput will be joined by Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and will answer questions about his book live at 5 p.m. EDT.
To participate in the session or submit a question, visit: http://www.kofc.org/un/eb/en/publications/sk_bookclub/
CNA STAFF, Sep 26, 2008 (CNA) - YouTube.com has pulled the complete Spanish version of the pro-life video “The Hard Truth” as presented by Mexican actor Eduardo Verastegui. In the video, the actor informs Hispanic voters about the abortion industry and the position of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
The unedited video, which features graphic images of abortions carried out in the United States, can be seen at www.durarealidad.com.
In the video, Verastegui says Hispanics are the ones most affected by the abortion industry.
“Abortion is not only a lucrative industry; it is also used by people who are racist as a means to eliminate our people, since they consider us to be a threat to democracy in this country,” Verastegui states.
“We need to put an end to abortion and political candidates play a very important role in this matter,” he says.
“Obama supports abortions performed during the last trimester of pregnancy,” “the inhuman partial birth abortion,” and he wants “to finance abortions with the tax dollars you and I pay,” the Mexican actor points out.
He also recalls that “as a lawmaker, Obama voted on several occasions against a law to protect babies who survived an abortion and were born alive.”
“Obama is more interested in maintaining the legality of abortion that in the well-being of the babies, children and families of this country,” Verastegui says. He calls on Hispanics “to unite and do something to defend life at every stage, from conception to natural death.”
CNA's edited version of the video can still be viewed on YouTube.com
Bangalore, India, Sep 26, 2008 (CNA) - The executive body of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, meeting in Bangalore on Friday, issued a statement expressing "utter disappointment" at the "apathy and inaction" of the national and state governments in the face of anti-Christian violence committed by extremist Hindus. Calling upon Indian officials to stop the violence and to help its victims, they denied allegations of forced conversions to Christianity and suggested such charges are self-serving.
The bishops lamented the murder of innocent people, the molestation of women, the desecration and destruction of churches and religious places, and the destruction of Christians’ homes in various districts of the east coast state of Orissa, the Indian Catholic reports.
"The State Government kept giving an assurance that things were normal and security arrangements were perfect," the statement read. "Yet when representations were made, it pleaded inability to control the mobs that vandalized church property [and] assailed religious personnel and the Christian population."
The bishops claimed that the perpetrators of the violence were "trained agents of radical Hindutva activists" acting under instructions and executing a "master plan of destruction."
The bishops’ statement also reports that the violence has spread to Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh.
According to the bishops, the violence is undermining India’s ancient values of "Ahimsa (non-injury), Truth, Tolerance, and Respect for Religions."
The attacks have also damaged India’s international image of secular democracy, the bishops claim.
"These recent horrors in various parts of our country have disgraced the high ideals and principles that our wise men and saints upheld and the vision that our Founding Fathers cherished," they wrote.
While voicing appreciation for the national government’s dispatching of a fact-finding team to Karnataka, the bishops expressed disappointment that until recently similar action was not taken in Orissa.
Invoking the religious liberty guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, India’s bishops demanded stronger action against "anti-social and anti-religious elements" that "violate human rights and terrorize innocent people."
Calling for legal action against those responsible for the violence, the bishops also demanded adequate restitution for the victims of the extremists. The bishops asked that the Central Bureau of Investigation examine connections between the Orissa incidents and anti-Christian attacks in nearby states.
Further, the bishops demanded a ban on fundamentalist groups that train "terrorists" under the banner of Hindutva, also demanding that leaders who incite violence or politicize religion be restrained.
Addressing repeated allegations of forced conversion by Christians, the bishops declared that they are convinced such a claim is "merely a strategy developed by vested interests in order to prevent Christian services of health, education, poverty alleviation and development on behalf of deprived communities."
The bishops’ statement proclaimed conversion by force, allurement, or deception to be against Catholic teachings such as those found in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
They also countered claims that the poor are manipulated into conversion.
"It is truly humiliating to the poor to claim that they easily yield to the temptation of converting to any religion for some material advantage. In fact, the poor who choose Christianity forfeit so many benefits guaranteed by the Constitution," they wrote, referring to constitutional provisions for low-caste Hindus.
"Some have even sacrificed their lives for refusing to reconvert," the bishops added. They suggested that extremist Hindu opposition to Christian activities "derives from the fear that many of the deprived communities may be so empowered as to assert their own rights and resist exploitation."
However, the bishops continued, "we cannot renounce the heritage of love and justice that Jesus left us."
They counseled that forgiveness is the proper response to anti-Christian violence, saying they themselves are "heartened" by Hindus and other Indians who have condemned the "evil deeds of a fringe group of fundamentalist activists" and have helped their victims.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of India statement ended with a call to prayer:
"We invite everyone to join in prayer for our great nation, for leaders of the Governments and for Civil Authorities, for all those who have suffered in the recent violence and also for those who were the cause of our sufferings. May God bless our country and lead us on the way of peace and justice."
Richmond, Va., Sep 26, 2008 (CNA) -
At least five Virginia State Police chaplains have resigned after being told they must refrain from using words like "Jesus" and "Christ."
Superintendent W. Steven Flaherty, reportedly concerned about offending people of other faiths, directed the agency’s 17 chaplains to begin delivering neutral or nondenominational prayers at functions such as trooper graduation ceremonies and its annual memorial service for fallen officers, the Richmond Times-Dispatch says.
"The department recognizes the importance of a state government agency to be inclusive and respectful of the varied ethnicities, cultures and beliefs of our employees, their families and citizens at large," Flaherty said in a statement.
Flaherty cited as justification a recent ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which upheld a Fredericksburg City Council ban on sectarian prayer. Flaherty’s office denied that Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine’s administration was behind the decision.
Five members of the state police’s 29-year-old chaplaincy corps have quit their ministries in protest. All of them being sworn officers, they remain on staff as such.
Rex Carter, one of the resigning chaplains, argued he should have the right to pray "how I believe, regardless of whether somebody agrees or not," saying "There's a fine line -- but it's a hard line -- between an individual's right to pray versus what is considered state-sponsored speech."
Sgt. Glenn Phillips, another department chaplain, said the chaplaincy was never meant to be a pulpit to "to further fight the government as it encroaches on religion."
"Nobody's been asked to deny their faith or anything like that," he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch."I'm a Christian, and I don't think that Jesus would look at this as necessarily a good thing."
State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller noted that the policy does not prohibit chaplains from making religious references at private ceremonies or in individual counseling.
Emphasizing that the policy change is not aimed at Christianity, she said the department has not received any complaints about religious references.
Virginia General Assembly Delegate Charles W. Carrico, a former state trooper, is protesting the decision.
"You don't check your religious beliefs at the door just because you're hired by the state and are a member of the department," he said, characterizing the decision as the "separation of Jesus and state."
"What we have here is an attack on the name of Jesus, on the name of Christ. And I'm not going to sit back and just let it happen," Carrico continued, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.
Carrico stated he intends to introduce legislation to address the issue.