Archive of November 21, 2008

State recognition of same-sex marriage could put religious freedom at risk, study finds

Washington D.C., Nov 21, 2008 (CNA) - As the legal status of California’s Proposition 8 remains uncertain, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has released a study examining the problems legal same-sex marriage poses for religious freedom. The Washington D.C.-based advocacy group reports that the legal recognition of same-sex marriage could affect over 350 separate state anti-discrimination laws and could render objectors to same-sex marriage vulnerable to lawsuits under such laws.

“If same-sex marriage is recognized by courts or legislatures, people and institutions that have conscientious objections to facilitating same-sex marriage will likely be sued under existing anti-discrimination laws—laws never intended for that purpose,” the Becket Fund states in a press release announcing the study’s publication.

The study, titled “Same-Sex Marriage and State Anti-Discrimination Laws,” examined more than 1,000 state anti-discrimination laws with a focus upon those which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender, or marital status.

All 50 states prohibit gender discrimination in some way, while only 37 states have explicit religious exemptions to these provisions. According to the Becket Fund, many of these exemptions are “quite narrow.”

“This lack of robust exemptions could become a problem if (as has happened in some instances) religious objections to same-sex marriage are treated as a kind of gender discrimination,” the Becket Fund explains.

Additionally, 33 states prohibit at least some forms of discrimination based on marital status, with only 13 providing religious exemptions of varying restrictiveness. Most of these anti-discrimination laws relate to employment or housing, while a few relate to insurance and public accommodations.

Twenty states prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, with 18 providing exemptions for religious objection.

“By recognizing same-sex marriage without creating exemptions for conscientious objectors, states would inadvertently allow members of same-sex unions to sue religious organizations under gender discrimination laws,” the study says.

Considering the possible consequences of changes in marriage law, the Becket Fund study makes several recommendations.

Saying that altering the legal definition of marriage will affect a wide variety of state and federal laws, it advises “legislatures are better equipped than courts to balance the competing rights that must be considered when crafting policy.”

“When courts do consider same-sex marriage cases, they must take into account those competing rights and carve out robust religious exemptions,” the study suggests.

The Becket Fund recommends congressional hearings at the federal level to “bring attention to the conflicts between same-sex marriage and religious liberty.” Further, the Fund believes that Congress should also consider legislation which would reiterate constitutional protections for religious freedom and provide a “federal court remedy” for religious organizations penalized due to their objections to same-sex marriage.

At the state level, the study suggests state legislators enact additional exemptions from anti-discrimination laws “so that religious individuals and institutions are not forced to choose between following their consciences and following their government.”

“Legal recognition of same-sex marriage—whether imposed by courts or enacted by legislatures—poses a great threat to the freedom of conscience that has been honored in this country since before the Founding,” the study concludes. “That threat can be mitigated by creating specific protections for religious and other conscientious objectors to same-sex marriage.”

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S. Carolina councilwoman apologizes for describing Catholic beliefs as 'hate'

Charleston, S.C., Nov 21, 2008 (CNA) - A South Carolina county councilwoman has apologized for remarks she made at a land management committee discussion considering whether to allow a Catholic church to expand. She had said she would oppose the expansion because she sees “hate” in the Catholic Church, criticizing the Church’s pro-life position and its lack of female clergy, which she called “an affront to my dignity and all of womankind.”

On Monday the Beaufort County Council heard a request from Saint Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton to rezone land for a proposed expansion.

The website of Saint Gregory the Great Church, whose pastor is named Father Ronald Cellini, reports it is seeing “unprecedented growth of this parish family,” increasing by more than 5,000 souls since 1995.

During a land management committee discussion, Laura Von Harten explained she would oppose the request of the parish at the full council meeting later in the week. Although Von Harten does not serve on the land committee, she took the floor to make plain her views about the Catholic Church.

According to the Beaufort Gazette, she cited “human rights issues” as a reason for her opposition.

"I could not have Father Cellini's job or the Pope's job if I wanted it and it's an affront to my dignity as a woman and all of womankind,” said Von Harten, who is reportedly a Unitarian Universalist.

“I don't want to support anything that will perpetuate that kind of ideology that would prevent me from being an active leader in an organization, and I don't like the way they want to control women's uteruses, and I just don't want to do anything that would perpetuate that.”

If land must be rezoned, she said, “I want it to be to create a loving inclusive mixed-use community and that's the only way I will give up rural land… I just have to vote in favor of love and against hate when I see hate.”

Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League, went so far as to call for the councilwoman’s resignation.

“Without the slightest provocation, Laura Von Harten decided to bash Catholicism,” Donohue said in a Wednesday statement. “This suggests an animus so deep as to call into question her fitness for public service. She should do more than recuse herself on matters Catholic—she should resign from her post as councilwoman. There is no legitimate role for bigots in public life.”

Following criticism of her remarks, Von Harten on Tuesday said she would abstain from any votes on St. Gregory the Great’s rezoning.

She made what she called a formal apology for her remarks on Wednesday, saying her reference to human rights pertain to “the Catholic Church as a political entity, with a seat at the United Nations, but I acknowledge that I offended individuals in my own community.”

The Holy See in fact has a permanent observer mission to the United Nations but no voting seat.

Saying she intended no infringement of anyone’s religious freedom and did not intend to disparage any individual member of the Church, she added:

“I respect the rights of all people to worship in the church of their choosing. Given the history of persecution endured by members of the Catholic Church, I regret my insensitivity on this matter.”

Saying she was “truly sorry” for having “interjected” her concerns about the Catholic Church into a zoning discussion, she claimed she had “meant only an extension of my overall opposition to development that restricts access on the basis of factors such as race, age or gender but it was an inappropriate forum.”

“Please be assured that I have been reminded of the importance of separation of church and state in matters of land use, and have learned a great deal from this incident,” Von Harten continued, asking for forgiveness and pledging “to approach my duties as councilwoman from a more restrained and objective viewpoint.”

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First Life Prizes awarded to six pro-life individuals and groups

Natick, Mass., Nov 21, 2008 (CNA) - The Gerard Health Foundation has announced the inaugural winners of its new Life Prizes award established to recognize six individuals or groups who have made “unsurpassed strides in preserving and upholding the sanctity of human life.”

The American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) was one of the winners, described by Life Prizes as an organization that “saves lives by remaining steadfastly committed to life within a stridently pro-abortion profession and which conducts research, writing, and public advocacy especially on the negative impact of abortion on women.”

A second winner was Richard Doerflinger, a bioethics expert who is Associate Director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. Described as a “consummate researcher,” he is reported to have been involved in almost every major pro-life legislative initiative since 1980.

“He has contributed behind the scenes to all major pro-life statements from the Catholic bishops during the last quarter century,” the Life Prizes statement said.

Margaret "Peggy" Hartshorn, the president of Heartbeat International, was a third awardee. Heading a network of more than 1,000 pregnancy resource centers around the world, her work was credited with directly saving “the lives of innumerable unborn children and their mothers from abortion through vital pregnancy support.”

Another Life Prizes awardee was Jill Stanek, the nurse who first exposed the infanticide at an Illinois hospital where babies who survived abortions were being left to die in a utility closet. A proponent and chief witness of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, she is a writer and popular blogger who Life Prizes said continues to “reveal the truth about late-term abortion.”

Lila Rose, founder of the student pro-life organization Live Action and President of its UCLA chapter, was also recognized in the Life Prizes. Her journalistic undercover investigations “exposed the racism and statutory rape cover-up by Planned Parenthood,” Life Prizes reported.

The final awardee of the first Life Prizes awards was Kay Coles James, Founder and President of The Gloucester Institute. Her institute, described as “an outreach and education initiative for young African Americans,” develops solutions for communities facing challenges. Using lessons from the civil rights movement, it recognizes that “the first civil right is life itself.”

Kay and her husband Charles James have “worked to advance the pro-life cause for three decades as advocates in the highest levels of government.” They have founded both a pregnancy resource center and Black Americans for Life.

The prize divides $600,000 among the six winners, who were chosen from more than 100 nominees by the Life Prizes Selection Advisory Committee.

The selection committee’s four members include Archbishop of Denver Charles Chaput, the Reverend Dr. Alveda King, former Ambassador to the Holy See Ray Flynn and Professor Hadley Arkes of Amherst College.

Cathy Ruse, Executive Director of the Gerard Health Foundation’s Life Prizes program, worked with the committee.

"We were impressed by the exceptional caliber of all those nominated for the initial year of Life Prizes, and reminded of the heroism, sacrifice, and valor in the efforts of leaders from across the country," Cathy Ruse commented in a Life Prizes press release. "The six winners that were chosen are examples for us and for our children of the type of initiative and action that is needed to promote life throughout our country. We are thrilled with the work they have been doing and are excited to see how that work will continue."

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Philippines legislators propose alternative to reproductive health bill

Manila, Philippines, Nov 21, 2008 (CNA) - The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is assisting an effort to craft an alternative version of the country’s controversial proposed Reproductive Health bill, saying their preferred version will “promote authentic human development.”

One feature of the bill is its non-promotion of contraceptives in family planning, CBCP Episcopal Commission on Family and Life executive Secretary Father Melvin Castro told CBCP News.

“Instead of the RH bill we are instead proposing another bill that would really address the poverty of our people and promote authentic human development,” he said, emphasizing that the Church is only providing input to help “pro-family legislators” draft the bill and make it more “morally acceptable.”

“It should not be labeled as a Catholic Church bill,” Father Castro remarked.

Family Media Advocacy spokesperson Jo Imbong explained that the proposal is a common effort between lawmakers and pro-life groups “so that all the dimensions of human development are considered.”

“The bill is being worked by the Bishops-Legislators’ Caucus (BLC) and several associations of families... because families should be consulted in matters that affect them,” she said.

BLC executive director Fenny Tatad reported that the suggestion the Church be involved came from the lawmakers themselves.

“It is now under major refinement,” Tatad said of the bill, adding that drafters hope to finish it as soon as possible.

The Reproductive Health Bill which the new version is intended to replace was passed by the Philippines House Committee on Health last month.

The Church has long had significant influence in the Philippines on issues like the legalization of divorce or the promotion and use of condoms. The Church teaches that condoms frustrate the intimate and procreative purposes of the sexual act and are thus immoral, even for HIV/AIDS prevention.

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Catholic Church receives second visit from Armenian Apostolic Church this year

Vatican City, Nov 21, 2008 (CNA) - Ecumenical relations between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church are continuing to progress as the Vatican announced today that a high-level leader from the Armenian Church will visit the Pope.

His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia of the Armenians, whose See is located in the Lebanese town of Antelias, is scheduled to make an official visit to the Pope and the Church of Rome from November 23-27.

As Catholicos of Cilicia, Aram I presides over a large sector of the Armenian Apostolic Church which includes Syria, Cyprus, Iran, Greece and Lebanon. The term "Catholicos" is used in the Armenian Apostolic Church to refer to the chief bishop of a region.

In May of this year, Pope Benedict XVI received Karekin II, the head of the whole Armenian Apostolic Church and held discussions about the necessity of prayer for increasing unity amongst Christians.

The upcoming visit by Catholicos Aram I will begin with a visit to St. Peter's Basilica and the tomb of Pope John Paul II on the morning of Monday, November 24.

Following his visit to the late Pope’s tomb, Aram I will visit the Patio of St. Gregory the Illuminator to pay homage to the saint considered to be the apostle of the Armenian Apostolic Church. He will subsequently be received in audience by Benedict XVI.

On November 26, the Catholicos, his entourage, and a group of around 50 Armenian lay people who have come to Rome for the visit will attend the weekly general audience that Pope Benedict XVI holds each Wednesday.

The Catholicos also has other important events on his schedule including attending a liturgy on Monday at the basilica of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls, which will be led by Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, archpriest of the basilica.

On Tuesday, he will attend Vespers in the basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Isola Tiberina in Rome, where he will offer a relic of Armenian martyrs. Later the same day he will participate in a prayer meeting at the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, a communiqué from the Vatican press office says.

Aram I will also participate in an academic ceremony to be held in his honor at the Pontifical Urban University, and meet with Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and other officials of that dicastery.

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Vatican continues initiatives to go green

Vatican City, Nov 21, 2008 (CNA) - As a “concrete and tangible initiative” to promote the protection of the environment, the Vatican has replaced concrete panels on the roof of the Paul VI Hall with photo electric ones, which it will unveil next Wednesday. 


The new installation, which is part of the "green culture characterized by ethical values" promoted by Benedict XVI, will protect the building from the elements and convert solar energy into electricity.


The 2,400 components of the installation not only replaced the concrete roof panels, but also matched the dimensions of the original tiles planned by the building's architect, Pier Luigi Nervi. The panels have a dual function: "passively" protecting the building from the elements and "actively" converting solar energy into electricity.


The inauguration ceremony will take place at the headquarters of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and will be attended by Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State; Pier Carlo Cuscianna, director of technical services of the Governorate of Vatican City State; Livio De Santoli of Rome's "La Sapienza" University; Frank Asbeck, president of Solar World AG, and Carlo Rubbia, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics.


In an effort to become the first carbon-neutral state, the Vatican is also growing a 37-acre forest dubbed the “Vatican Climate Forest” in Hungary to offset its annual carbon dioxide emissions.

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List of papal celebrations through January 2009 published

Vatican City, Nov 21, 2008 (CNA) - The Vatican’s Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff has announced the celebrations that will be led by the Holy Father between the end of November 2008 and January 2009.

The list of events is as follows:

November 2008

Saturday 29: At 5:00 p.m. in the Vatican Basilica, First Vespers for the first Sunday of Advent

Sunday 30: First Sunday of Advent. The Pope will pay a pastoral visit to the Roman basilica of San Lorenzo for the 1,750th anniversary of the martyrdom of the deacon saint. Mass will be held at 9:45 a.m.

December 2008

Monday 8: Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. At 4:00 p.m. in Rome's Piazza di Spagna, the Holy Father will give homage to Mary Immaculate

Wednesday 24: Vigil of the Solemnity of the Birth of Our Lord. Pope Benedict will celebrate Midnight Mass in the Vatican Basilica

Thursday 25: Solemnity of the Birth of Our Lord. At midday from the central loggia of the Vatican Basilica, the Holy Father will deliver his annual "Urbi et Orbi" blessing

Wednesday 31: At 6:00 p.m. in the Vatican Basilica, Benedict XVI will lead a First Vespers of thanksgiving for the past year


January 2009

Thursday 1: Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God and 42nd World Day of Peace. The Pope will celebrate Mass in the Vatican Basilica at 10:00 a.m.

Tuesday 6: Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. Mass in the Vatican Basilica at 10:00 a.m.

Sunday, 11: Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. The Pope will offer Mass in the Sistine Chapel at 10:00 a.m., followed by the Baptism of several children

Sunday 25: Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. At 5:30 p.m. in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, Pope Benedict will celebrate Vespers

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Archbishop supports Uruguayan presidential veto of abortion law

Montevideo, Uruguay, Nov 21, 2008 (CNA) - Archbishop Nicolas Cotugno of Montevideo has expressed his unreserved support of President Tabare Vasquez’s historic veto of a bill that would have legalized abortion in the country.


According to the newspaper “Busqueda,” Archbishop Cotugno explained in a recent meeting with catechists that the basis for Vasquez’s veto to the bill was so clear the veto could have easily been signed by a commission of experts from the Holy See.


In his veto, Vasquez stressed that the law “cannot ignore the reality of the existence of human life in its gestational phase” and that “the true degree of civilization of a nation is measured by how it protects those most in need.”  He also reminded people that women in need must be surrounded by care and solidarity, instead of being pressured to have an abortion.

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Work begins on new Nativity scene at the Vatican

Vatican City, Nov 21, 2008 (CNA) - This week the Vatican City government began work on the construction of a new Nativity scene that will be on display in St. Peter’s Square this Christmas.


During this past week, with the Church preparing to celebrate final holy day of the liturgical year, the solemnity of Christ the King, dozens of workers began building a curious thirteen feet tall semi-circular structure that partially surrounding the great obilesk in St. Peter’s Square.


CNA asked the Holy See’s Press Office about the theme chosen for this year’s Nativity scene. “The theme of the Nativity scene is chosen and implemented by the Vatican government, and only when the work is completed will the Holy See be informed of the theme,” Sister Giovanna Gentili, SFP, said. 


Last year the Vatican government chose the new theme of the Holy Family in Nazareth instead of in Bethlehem.  Due to the usual, semicircular aspect of the preparations, many expect the Holy See to unveil another surprise this Christmas season.

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188 martyrs 'show the way for those who believe,' Japanese bishops say

Rome, Italy, Nov 21, 2008 (CNA) - In a press release this week the bishops of Japan pointed out that the 188 Japanese martyrs to be beatified “are not political militants, they did not fight against a regime that hindered religious freedom: they were men and women of profound and authentic faith, who show the way for those who believe. Their experience is an opportunity for reflection for us all.”


According to the Fides news agency, in referring to these martyrs who gave their lives for Jesus Christ between 1603 and 1639, the Japanese bishops point out that their testimony is a challenge to the Church about the role of the laity in the transmission of the faith and in the organization of the Church, and therefore, they said, “It’s time that the formation of our laity be taken seriously.”


Likewise, the bishops underscored, “We appreciate the fact that, without these women” who are among the 188 martyrs, “the Church would not exist today in Japan.  We await the beatification of these women martyrs as a message of hope and comfort for all the women of this country, of whatever religious faith.”


They also pointed to the example of Father Peter Kibe and other priests, “who send us a message rich in teaching for the priests today who seek to be good pastors in contemporary Japan.”

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Planned Parenthood head lashes out at Cardinal O’Malley

Boston, Mass., Nov 21, 2008 (CNA) - Dianne Luby, the head of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts has responded to comments by Cardinal Sean O’Malley after the prelate criticized President-elect Obama and Planned Parenthood. Charging that his comments diminish his credibility, she argued that Catholics “overwhelmingly support” the “views and services” offered by Planned Parenthood and advocated by Obama.

She also claimed Planned Parenthood shares common ground with the Catholic Church on working to reduce “risky behavior among young people” and the need for abortions.

Luby’s reply was directed to the Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson, who had interviewed the cardinal.

In his interview with Paulson after Election Day, the cardinal had remarked that Obama “is possibly in the pocket of Planned Parenthood, which in its origins was a very racist organization to eliminate the blacks, and it’s sort of ironic that he’s been co-opted by them.” He also said Obama had a “deplorable” record on pro-life issues and argued that church-going Catholics reflect the Church’s teaching, though “not as much as we’d like them to.”

Luby, the President and CEO of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, responded to Cardinal O’Malley in a message to Paulson.

"It diminishes Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s credibility when he attacks President-elect Barack Obama and Planned Parenthood for views and services his own members overwhelmingly support,” Luby claimed, saying the cardinal and several other “participants at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops” are “eager to jump into politics.”

She said it would be good for the bishops “to understand why their messages didn’t stick with their primary audience,” claiming that Obama succeeded because of his ability to “propose solutions that reflect the reality of issues faced by the American people.”

Luby then cited statistics claiming 92 percent of married Catholics use some form of birth control, while 72 percent of Massachusetts Catholic voters support “comprehensive sex education.”

“These are issues that the Catholic Church and Cardinal O’Malley have repeatedly refused to acknowledge as a mainstream part of health and education in our society,” she argued, saying “Perhaps Cardinal O’Malley should spend less time sharing political opinions and more time listening to the reality of life for his own constituency.”

Luby claimed the Catholic Church has “an opportunity to reconnect with their members around these issues,” arguing that Obama had succeeded with voters by “highlighting messages about preventing unintended pregnancy and reducing the need for abortion.” Luby professed that Planned Parenthood shares that belief and said the group would work with Cardinal O’Malley to reach that goal.

Additionally, she claimed 70 percent of Planned Parenthood services “are related to preventative care, not abortion.”

She also argued Cardinal O’Malley and other bishops “have a lot of work to do in order to reconnect with their members,” citing failed pro-life initiatives in California, Colorado, and South Dakota.

CNA spoke with the Archdiocese of Boston to obtain a reaction to Luby’s letter, but a response was unavailable by press time.

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Bishops of Nicaragua condemn violence and call for peace

Managua, Nicaragua, Nov 21, 2008 (CNA) - At the conclusion of their Plenary Assembly, the bishops of Nicaragua issued a statement reiterating their concern and sorrow as pastors “over the violence in different parts of the country, which is reopening deep wounds that our people had overcome with much effort and good will.”

The bishops made their statement in the wake of violence that has occurred since local elections were held, which the bishops described as plagued by a series of irregularities that need to be clarified.  They also reiterated their opposition “to any kind of violence, no matter where it comes from, because ‘the Church is the first to desire peace.’  We never have nor ever will be participants in the use of violence as a means to achieving an objective.”

The bishops of Nicaragua also pointed out that “it is essential that all constitutional, legal and democratic means be exhausted to find a solution to the current crisis, in keeping with truth and justice.”  “We cannot passively watch as signs and words proper to the Catholic faith are used for political purposes and for reasons completely contrary to the values that they signify.”

The bishops also stressed their call to prayer and conversion. “We ask that wherever possible, a procession with the Blessed Sacrament take place this coming Sunday, the feast of Christ the King.”

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