Rome, Italy, Jan 9, 2009 (CNA) - The Vatican daily the L’Osservatore Romano, has reported that the “Lebanese Maronite Catholic Church warned that the war in the Gaza Strip could spread to Lebanon as well.”
One of the dangerous aspects of the conflict in Gaza is that it could also spread to other places and countries, among which is Lebanon,” the bishops said after their monthly gathering, led by the Patriarch of Antioquia of the Maronites, Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir.
, Jan 9, 2009 (CNA) - Fallout from the exposure of investment manager Bernard Madoff’s massive $50 billion Ponzi scheme threw many individuals and charities into financial distress. The fraud has also deprived funding from several pro-abortion rights groups and projects.
The Florida-based Picower Foundation, listed as the 71st-largest in the nation by the Council on Foundations, claimed assets of $1 billion, the New York Times reports. It was forced to close in December due to financial problems with its assets, which were managed by Madoff.
Reportedly distributing about $70 million in grants between 2004 and 2007, the Picower Foundation describes its national grant making as covering areas of “education, medical innovation and an equitable and inclusive society.”
The non-profit networking web site Idealist.org reports: “The Foundation’s efforts to achieve a more equitable and inclusive society consists of supporting projects in human rights, reproductive rights and Jewish continuity.”
Slate.com blogger Nancy Goldstein on Wednesday reported that abortion advocacy groups are facing financial shortfalls because of the Picower Foundation’s collapse.
“Picower was one of a handful of foundations willing to stick their necks out and significantly fund the three organizations that handle virtually all major reproductive rights-related litigation and legal advocacy in the United States,” the pro-abortion rights Goldstein wrote. “Now the Center for Reproductive Rights needs to make up a $600,000 shortage in 2009; Planned Parenthood is out $484,000; the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project is off $200,000.”
Carlos Polo, director for Latin America at the Population Research Institute, has linked the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) to a strategy to force permissive abortion laws upon Latin America.
Members of CRR have proposed using international litigation to “develop new standards for the protection of reproductive rights” and to force local authorities to ignore their country’s laws and introduce changes that would allow abortion and “reproductive health” services for teenagers.
In November, former CRR lobbyist and New York lawyer Melody C. Barnes was appointed to become President-elect Barack Obama’s Director of the Domestic Policy Council.
The ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project authored the 2002 report “Religious Refusals and Reproductive Rights.” Characterizing the expansion of Catholic hospitals as a “growth in the sectarian health system,” the report advocated restricting the ability of Catholic hospitals and other institutions to refuse to perform procedures they find objectionable, such as sterilizations or abortions.
“The law should not permit an institution’s religious strictures to interfere with the public’s access to reproductive health care,” the report’s executive summary argued. Though granting that medical professionals should be allowed to opt-out of procedures to which they object, the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project insisted that they must cooperate in giving “complete and accurate information” and in making “appropriate referrals.”
“We reject the imposition of religious doctrines on those who do not share them, especially at the expense of the public health,” the report said, arguing that concerns for individual religious belief and institutional religious worship should be “balanced” with protections for “reproductive health,” patient autonomy, and “gender equality.”
Recently, the Reproductive Freedom Project has advocated limiting the ability of pharmacists to refuse to dispense contraceptives. It also has attacked new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rules reinforcing medical professionals’ and medical institutions’ conscience protection guarantees provided by federal law.
Madrid, Spain, Jan 9, 2009 (CNA) - Various pro-life and pro-family organizations in Spain have banded together to form a support group for Judge Ferrin Calamita, who sits on the bench in Murcia and was sued for alleged discrimination against a lesbian who wanted to adopt the underage daughter of her partner.
Judge Fernando Ferrin Calamita was accused of illegally delaying a request for adoption by the couple for six months. He was sentenced to two years, three months and one day of unemployment or public office, plus a fine of $8,000 payable to the plaintiffs. He must also pay for all the court costs, which could reach $13,600.
According to leaders of the new group, Judge Ferrin, a husband and father of seven, is in a dire situation, as he has been barred from the bench for two years, stripped of employment and salary and is not allowed to receive any pay for work.
For this reason, groups such as the Thomas Moore Center for Justice, the civil rights website HazteOir.org, and Professionals for Ethics and Hispanidad.com created the Judge Ferrin Calamita Support Network to raise funds to help him pay for the fines, court proceedings and the needs of his family.
, Jan 9, 2009 (CNA) - Organizers are preparing to mark “Terri’s Day,” the fourth anniversary of Terri Schiavo’s death, to commemorate the severely disabled woman who died from dehydration after a court order forced the removal of her feeding tube.
The Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation and Priests for Life will observe March 31 as the “International Day of Prayer and Remembrance for Terri Schindler Schiavo, and All of Our Vulnerable Brothers and Sisters,” calling it Terri’s Day for short.
Terri’s Day was established last year with the stated purpose of fostering education, prayer, and activism regarding discrimination against the disabled. It also aims to advance advocacy for people in situations similar to those Schiavo and her family faced, a press release from the organizers states.
Suzanne Vitadamo, Terri's sister, and Bobby Schindler, her brother, spoke on behalf of their family, saying:
“Sadly, our recent headlines are a clear indication that what happened to Terri is only getting worse. We are seeing that many of our institutions caring for our most vulnerable are being encouraged to devalue the sanctity of human life. Indeed, this is influenced by a very strong pro-death movement continuing to work very hard to legitimize euthanasia and assisted suicide.”
President of Priests for Life Father Frank Pavone, who had joined Schiavo’s siblings at her deathbed, added:
“As we consoled Terri and prayed with her, what I felt most strongly was the presence of countless people around the world who, by their love, prayers, and tears, accompanied Terri and her family through those difficult days. I am confident that these same individuals, families, and Churches will want to observe Terri's Day.”
The web site for Terri’s Day is located at www.TerrisDay.org.
Denver, Colo., Jan 9, 2009 (CNA) - Today CNA is unveiling a new column which analyzes the media’s coverage of Catholic issues to uncover what is really hidden between the lines.
For each posting, “Under the Glass” will feature an article from the secular or religious media and place it under a magnifying glass to expose media bias and lead readers to the truth on the issues.
To read the column’s first post titled, “Lies, damned lies, statistics… and the Washington Post on virginity,” click here or on “Under the Glass” located in the gray box at the bottom of any CNA page.
Buffalo, N.Y., Jan 9, 2009 (CNA) - An 82-year-old New York man has been charged with running a long-term Ponzi scheme targeted at Catholics, allegedly processing more than $16 million through a false mortgage company.
Clients of the scheme were told their investments went to “high quality residential mortgages” purchased “from bankers at a discount,” a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) complaint charges.
On Thursday morning a team of four agents from the U.S. Postal Service and the IRS took Richard S. Piccoli of Williamsville, New York to court, accusing him of using funds from his latest investors to pay off his first investors.
A postal inspector charged Piccoli with mail fraud, saying there was no evidence he bought any mortgages or did any investing at all, the Buffalo News reports. He allegedly paid out monthly interest to his clients, transferring about $600,000 to his personal accounts or to his children.
The SEC in a civil complaint also charged Piccoli and his business Gen-See Capital Corp. with a number of federal offenses. The Commission accused him of selling unregistered securities and is seeking an immediate freeze on his bank accounts, the Buffalo News reports.
“For at least the past decade, Defendants have engaged in a fraudulent Ponzi scheme primarily targeting the elderly and members of the Catholic community,” the SEC complaint reads.
Piccoli guaranteed 7 to 8 percent return on investment and offered Catholic priests as references.
“Unlike the Ups and Downs of the stock market, Gen-See investors earn 7.1 % Annual Interest ... guaranteed no interest fluctuation," one ad read, according to the SEC.
“[O]ur seniors and clergy are absolutely pleased with Gen-See's Re-Investment Program,” marketing materials for the alleged scam read. The materials highlight the program’s lack of fees or commissions and investors’ ability to draw a monthly check at any time with 30 days notice.
The program also promised a “significant return on capital.”
Piccoli’s clients included 50 priests in addition to churches, religious orders, and cemetery associations. He reportedly advertised in Catholic newspapers from Buffalo, New York to Anchorage, Alaska and sought clients among his fellow Knights of Columbus.
“He was very Catholic and very pro-church,” said one area priest who invested more than $50,000 in retirement savings with Gen-See told the Buffalo News. “I trusted him, and I thought, ‘Well it’s worth a risk.’”
The Western New York Catholic, the newspaper for the Diocese of Buffalo, ran some of Piccoli’s advertisements.
“Earn More Worry Less,” an October ad read, the Buffalo News says. “Your Money Deserves the Best! Gen-See Makes The Difference.”
Kevin Keenan, a spokesman for the diocese, told CNA that no diocesan funds were invested with Piccoli.
Keenan said Piccoli had run his ads in the Western New York Catholic, but no customers had complained to the paper. He added it would be unfortunate should Piccoli be proven to have used the newspaper to find customers to defraud.
“It’s a quality newspaper, and we pride ourselves on having quality advertisers,” he said to the Buffalo News.
When CNA contacted Keenan on Friday, he said that he had conversed with Piccoli’s “shocked” clients.
“They trusted him and in some cases he was close friends with these investors, they certainly feel that that trust has been violated and they think he took advantage of their friendship,” he said.
Keenan reiterated that no money from Buffalo’s diocesan foundation was involved in the investments.
“A couple of our parishes had invested with him,” he explained, adding that “several” active and retired priests had also been victimized by the alleged Ponzi scheme.
However, the extent of their financial losses is still unknown, Keenan told CNA.
According to the Buffalo News, the SEC complaint seems to indicate that no one has yet lost any money, stating that, since January 2007, Piccoli and Gen-See Capital Corp. received more than $16 million and paid out “approximately the same amount.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy released Piccoli without bail, until his arraignment on Tuesday. Piccoli said he intended to hire a lawyer.
Postal inspectors and the SEC reportedly want to hear from Piccoli’s investors in the hope of returning remaining funds.
“We want to talk to as many investors as possible to further investigate the case and, hopefully, to try and help them get their money back,” Williams said.
Vatican City, Jan 9, 2009 (CNA) - Mexicans are gearing up to host a meeting of families from around the world. With just five days until the first events begin, Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, provided an overview of the Sixth World Meeting of Families at the Vatican today.
The World Meeting of Families will take place January 14-18 in Mexico City and is meant to provide support to families, which are under attack throughout the world, Cardinal Antonelli explained.
Initially, organizers thought that Pope Benedict might attend the meeting, but as the event drew closer, Cardinal Antonelli announced that the Pope would not be coming on the advice of his doctors.
"The Holy Father will be 'especially present' at these events" with two video messages, he said at today’s press conference. The Pope’s first appearance will be a recorded message on the evening of Saturday, January 17, and a live message, via satellite, on Sunday, January 18 at the conclusion of the final Mass.
The meeting, which has the theme "The family, teacher of human and Christian values," will be attended by cardinals, bishops and delegations of families from all continents. Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone will also be present as the Pope’s personal representative.
As is the tradition in these world meetings - the last was held in Valencia, Spain, in July 2006 - the main celebrations will be preceded by a theological-pastoral congress.
This year's theological congress, to be attended by 8,000 people and held from January 14 -16, will focus on three main points: family relations and family values; the family and sexuality; and the educational vocation of the family. Lectures and workshops are also scheduled to take place on such subjects as: family relations and family values according to the Bible; values to be discovered and rediscovered; the family and the value of human life; organizations that help the family in the formation of values; family and the communications media; and the challenge of policymaking in support of life and the family.
The events for the World Meeting of Families also include two huge gatherings: a Rosary rally at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Saturday, January 17, and a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Bertone on Sunday, January 18.
The upcoming meeting has also produced some unique initiatives, such as a "Family Mosaic" comprised of thousands of photographs of families from all over the world arranged to create the image of Benedict XVI and a letter writing competition for single mothers within Mexico dubbed "A letter to my child."
As he closed the press conference, Cardinal Antonelli turned his attention to the state of the family in Mexico, which he said, "as in other parts of the world" is currently "experiencing a crisis." "Nonetheless," he added, "the family remains the principal institution of aid and solidarity."
He went on: "Abortion, divorce, euthanasia, questions associated with bioethics, though far removed from popular culture and practices, are also penetrating the mentality of Mexicans. Families today have to face ... the challenge of an individualist and market culture, founded on production and consumption. Unfortunately we have a mistaken concept of freedom, which is understood as self-sufficient autonomy. ... With this misguided mentality, laws often are passed - without broad social consensus and under the influence of small but active pressure groups, highly ideological and with large economic resources - that enable and facilitate abortion, rapid divorce and euthanasia."
"The Church is making great efforts of evangelization, supporting Christian families in their values and encouraging a wide-ranging strategy to promote and defend life from conception to natural death. ... Thanks to God," he concluded, "over the last few years numerous initiatives, both ecclesial and civil, have come into being in the service of the family ... which support this work."
Madrid, Spain, Jan 9, 2009 (CNA) - A campaign promoting atheism through ads on public buses in London has spread to the Spanish cities of Barcelona and Madrid, igniting a controversy among the inhabitants of both cities.
The so-called “atheist buses” in London were inspired by columnist Ariane Sherine of The Guardian and backed by the British Humanistic Association and Professor Richard Dawkins. Soon after philosopher, Anthony Grayling, journalist Polly Toynbee and the British Atheistic Association also voiced their support for the campaign.
The campaign now has some $250,000 in donations and has spread to other British cities, where some 600 buses carry ads that read, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” On Monday 1000 ads will be posted on London’s subway network.
Now, the Spanish media is reporting that “atheist buses” are circulating in Barcelona, and the Madrid city government said it would not oppose the ad campaign as long as it does not violate any advertising norms.
Caracas, Venezuela, Jan 9, 2009 (CNA) - During the opening of the 91st ordinary assembly of the Bishops’ Conference of Venezuela, conference president Archbishop Ubaldo Santana, said the government is neglecting its role in solving the problems of Venezuelans and is excessively fixated on maintaining power.
“We must demand that our leaders carry out their roles and guarantee full human rights to all,” the archbishop said, adding that the bishops consider it troubling that “excessive attention” is being paid to increasing power and that the problems of Venezuelans are being ignored.
“To leave aside the fundamental needs of the nation destroys the people and sows anarchy,” he continued. “Human persons are more important that political structures.”
The archbishop also expressed full support for Cardinal Jorge Urosa of Caracas in response to the latest verbal attacks against him by President Hugo Chavez.
“All Venezuelans deserve respect,” he explained, “and the Constitution guarantees the right to freely and respectfully express one’s opinion without insult.”
During his remarks, Archbishop Santana denounced the diverse signs of Venezuelan society’s decomposition, such as “anti-social gangs that have taken over public areas, sowing terror and fear.”
“Democracy does not exist if life, unrestricted transit and private property are not guaranteed,” the archbishop said. “The lack of security cuts off four rights of all Venezuelans: integrity, life, access to justice and mobility,” he added.
The archbishop called for the creation of a climate of peace, adding that “human rights come before all political institutions. There is no excuse for violating them. We demand respect for all, the end of class warfare and disrespectful language,” he said.
London, England, Jan 9, 2009 (CNA) - About to commence his trip to the Holy Land, Archbishop of Liverpool Patrick Kelly, Vice President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, has issued a statement on the Gaza crisis. Calling for an end to the violence, he noted the struggles of the small Christian community in Gaza and the “unique vocation” of the Church in the Holy Land.
“Everyone I meet at this time speaks with immense sadness of the suffering and destruction taking place in Gaza and the fears of the people in Israel because of rocket attacks,” Archbishop Kelly said on Tuesday, saying he shares such sadness.
“The conflict has deep roots but the priority now must be the immediate end to all violence,” he continued. “Violence is evil especially when it blocks humanitarian relief desperately needed. Because the roots are so deep and complex this outburst of violence cries out for such wise and courageous leadership that justice for all those for whom the Holy Land is home is achieved so that all violence is relegated to the past and peace shall be secured for generations to come.”
“I am also very conscious at this time of the small Christian community living in Gaza. The people, religious sisters and parish priest, Fr. Manuel, need our prayers as they struggle to witness to the Gospel of Peace.
“The Church in the Holy Land has a unique vocation,” he continued, saying his visit is one means to stand alongside Christians living throughout Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.”
The archbishop will be leading a group of European and North American bishops to the Holy Land from Jan. 9 to Jan. 15. The group, part of the Co-ordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church in the Holy Land, aims to act in solidarity with local Christians and to share in the pastoral life of the local Church as it suffers intense political and social-economic pressure.
“The purpose of the Holy Land co-ordination has always been to accompany the Churches in the Holy Land in their fidelity to two God-given tasks: never to be silent in the face of injustice or violence and always to proclaim and live the reconciliation accomplished by our Lord on a hill called Calvary,” Archbishop Kelly explained.
He added that the situation in Gaza makes the visit “a clear call from the Holy Spirit.”
“I join with the Holy Father and the leaders of the Church in the Holy Land in their prayer for the dead, the injured, the broken hearted, those who mourn and live night and day in fear,” the bishop concluded.
During their visit, Archbishop Kelly and the visiting bishops will meet with students at Bethlehem University and with seminarians at Beit Jala seminary. They will hold Mass at parishes and meet with parishioners across the West Bank. In addition, they will walk to Bethlehem with West Bank schoolchildren.
The visiting bishops will also receive briefings from the papal nuncio and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials, and conduct ecumenical meetings.
La Paz, Bolivia, Jan 9, 2009 (CNA) - The secretary general of the Bishops’ Conference of Bolivia, Bishop Jesus Juarez of El Alto said Wednesday that the day of prayer convened this week in Sucre which brought together opposition leaders was not organized or planned by the Catholic Church, as some media reports stated. This makes the attacks on Church officials by the Socialism Movement unjustified, he added.
Bishop Juarez explained that Archbishop Jesus Perez of Sucre participated in the event, which was strongly critical of the project of a new constitution, but that he prayed for the unity of all Bolivians and did not make any statement in favor or against it.
“The day of prayer was not planned or sponsored by the Catholic Church,” the bishop said. He also denied reports that Archbishop Perez had celebrated a Mass at the event.
Archbishop Perez read a passage from the Gospel of John imploring unity for all Bolivians and prayed an Our Father, asking God’s blessing upon all the country’s leaders, beginning with President Evo Morales.
On the other hand, Evangelical pastor Charles Suarez, who also participated in the day of prayer, made political statements, saying he would vote No on the new constitution.
Archbishop Juarez did say, however, that Catholics are concerned about certain passages of the constitution, which will be the subject of a referendum on January 25.
“The Church rejects any kind of law that gives a green light to abortion and that is against life in any stage,” he explained.
Madrid, Spain, Jan 9, 2009 (CNA) - The newspaper “El Dia” of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Canarian Islands revealed this Thursday that Socialists there, led by Florentino Guzman Plascencia, want funds set aside for the Church’s social work to be diverted to the Masons.
Plascencia is known in the Canaries not only for his anti-Catholic positions but also for promoting Santa Cruz as a homosexual tourist destination in Europe.
He has proposed that some $134,000 in funds for the social work carried out by the Church of St. Dominic be given instead to a program operated by the Masons that helps single mothers, despite the fact that the Church already has an outreach program to such women.
Plascencia, a leader of the Socialist Party, is also demanding that a portion of another $44,000 that is set aside for the Diocese of Tenerife be given to the Masonic Lodge located in downtown Santa Cruz.