Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2009 (CNA) -
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, writing on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has sent a letter to President-elect Barack Obama, Vice-president-elect Joseph Biden and Congress to assure them of the bishops’ prayers and their commitment “to make this period of national change a time to advance the common good and defend the life and dignity of all.”
The January 13 letter from Cardinal George, who is the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), offered an outline of “an agenda for dialogue and action.”
The cardinal began by explaining that bishops approach public policy “as pastors and teachers.” Their moral principles have guided them in reaching out to the needy, offering health care and housing, and educating children.
“We lead the largest community of faith in the United States, one that serves every part of our nation and is present in almost every place on earth,” the letter continued. “From our experience and our tradition, we offer a distinctive, constructive and principled contribution to the national dialogue on how to act together on issues of economic turmoil and suffering, war and violence, moral decency and human dignity.”
The letter’s policy content began with a pledge to help the new presidential administration and Congress “support strong, prudent and effective measures” to address the “terrible impacts” of the economic crisis. The bishops advocated that poor families and vulnerable workers be given priority.
The bishops, who said that access to decent health care is a basic human right, urged “comprehensive action” to ensure “truly universal health care coverage which protects all human life including pre-natal life.” “Any such legislation ought to respect freedom to choose,” they said, by offering options and ensuring respect for the moral and religious convictions of patients and health care providers.
They also gave their “enthusiastic backing” to efforts to relieve HIV/AIDS and other diseases in ways that are “both effectively and morally appropriate.”
The bishops pledged cooperation in seeking a “responsible transition” in an Iraq “free of religious persecution.” They also urged leadership in bringing peace to the Holy Land and in supporting “increased and reformed” foreign aid to overcome poverty, hunger and disease.
Advocating “comprehensive reform” to American immigration policy, the bishops said such a reform must be based upon “respect for and implementation of the law” while dealing with “the economic and human realities of millions of immigrants.”
The defense of marriage as being between a man and a woman was also raised by Cardinal George, who wrote, “We stand firm in our support for marriage which is a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman and must remain such in law.” “Marriage makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the common good of society, especially through the procreation and education of children. No other kinds of personal relationships can be justly made equivalent to the commitment of a man and a woman in marriage.”
The bishops added their support to initiatives which provide resources for parents to choose the best education for their children’s needs.
They also welcomed “continuing commitments” to faith-based programs in anti-poverty work and other efforts in ways that do not encourage the government to abandon its responsibilities and don’t require religious groups to abandon their identity and mission.
“Most fundamentally,” the Catholic bishops wrote, “we will work to protect the lives of the most vulnerable and voiceless members of the human family, especially unborn children and those who are disabled or terminally ill.”
“We will consistently defend the fundamental right to life from conception to natural death,” the bishops’ letter closed.
The bishops endorsed finding common ground to reduce the number of abortions in “morally sound ways.” They also pledged opposition to initiatives to expand abortion. The bishops mentioned conscience protection for health care workers and prohibitions on taxpayer funding of abortion as particular areas of concern.
Caracas, Venezuela, Jan 15, 2009 (CNA) - At the conclusion of their 91st Ordinary Plenary Assembly, the Bishops’ Conference of Venezuela issued a document in which they called on President Hugo Chavez to reconsider his desire to get re-elected for life for the sake of peace and reconciliation in the country.
“As Venezuelan citizens and pastors of the Church, we have the inalienable right and the duty to enlighten the social life and the ethical discernment of Christians and people of good will in order to defend moral values when these are gravely harmed and to provide ethical guidance for action that guarantees the common good of people and of society,” the statement indicates.
The bishops noted “with sadness” the growing loss of appreciation for life: “currently Venezuela is one of the most violent countries in the world, and among the causes of this violence are the trafficking and consumption of drugs, revenge killings, the vile and inhumane business of kidnapping and the dizzying increase of bounty hunters. It seems human life has no value.”
The statement also warns that intolerance and conflict have become a part of daily life in the country. “We reject this disrespect for human dignity and of the rights of persons, including those of the Bishops of Venezuela when they issue opinions different from those of the government.”
After recalling that in 2007 Venezuelans expressed their will on the issue of indefinite re-election, the bishops note that this issue has more to do with “extending power into the future” than with “overcoming the deficiencies suffered by the people.” For this reason, they called on Chavez to cease his attempts to seek re-election through illegitimate means.
Denver, Colo., Jan 15, 2009 (CNA) - Controversy within the Episcopal Church renewed on Saturday as the Episcopal Bishop of Colorado Robert O'Neill ordained a “partnered” lesbian as an Episcopal priest.
Bishop O’Neill also ordained another woman and two men as priests for congregations in Colorado.
Mary Catherine Volland, a partnered lesbian, was a candidate for ordination from the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota and was ordained by Bishop O’Neill on behalf of its bishop, James Jelinek.
She will assist at a Denver church.
A press release from the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado said that the Episcopal Church ordains “partnered gays and lesbian persons,” saying gay and lesbian clergy are in service in several Colorado congregations.
“Although there is a clearly range of opinion among clergy and lay people of the diocese about the ministry of partnered gay and lesbian clergy,” the press release said, “one of the gifts of Anglican Christianity is its tradition of holding widely divergent points of view in a context of orthodox Christian faith.”
Bishop O’Neill described the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado as “perhaps the most politically and theologically diverse diocese in The Episcopal Church.”
“Our faithful walking together as sisters and brothers in Christ is at once challenging and a great gift that we have to offer to a broken and divided world,” he continued.
The bishop expressed his gratitude to those who offer themselves to God’s service, “including the gay and lesbian Christians among us who so generously contribute to our common life and ministry.”
CNA contacted the office of presiding U.S. bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to discover if the ordination of Volland breaks a ban on ordaining homosexuals. Schori's office referred CNA to the local diocese.
Rome, Italy, Jan 15, 2009 (CNA) - On January 25, the Vatican City Government’s Post Office will issue a special stamp on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul to mark the Pauline Year.
According to L’Osservatore Romano, the stamp will bear the logo of the Pauline Year and the inscription, "ANNO PAULINO º CONVERSIONES DI SAN PAOLO" and "POSTE VATICANE º 25 GEN. 2009" (Pauline Year º Conversion of St. Paul; Vatican Postal Service º 25 Jan 2009).
The outline of the stamp was designed by the Vatican Post Office.
Vatican City, Jan 15, 2009 (CNA) - Members of the Vatican’s security force met with Pope Benedict and heard him offer encouragement not to lose heart in the face of the many threatening clouds gathering on the horizon. Christ is the true hope of Christians and only he can build a world of love and justice, he said.
The Thursday meeting between the Pope and members of the General Inspectorate for Public Security for the Vatican was held in keeping with a tradition that takes place each January.
In his remarks the Pope referred to the sacrifices their activities involve, sacrifices that also affect their families "because of the shift-work required in order to maintain constant watch over the area around St. Peter's Square and the Vatican."
Saying that the new year brings with it many expectations and hopes, the Holy Father also alluded to the numerous conflicts around the world.
"We cannot hide the fact that many threatening clouds are gathering on the horizon. We must not, however, lose heart, rather we must keep the flame of hope alive in our hearts. For us as Christians the true hope is Christ, the Father's gift to humanity. ... Only Christ can help us build a world in which justice and love reign," Pope Benedict said.
The members of the Inspectorate also received insights from the Pope on how their work can be "experienced as a mission." The Pontiff explained that their work can be "a service to others through order and security and, at the same time, a form of individual asceticism; what we may call constant internal vigilance which requires harmony between discipline and cordiality, between self-control and attentive welcome of the pilgrims and tourists who come to the Vatican."
"If undertaken with love," he added, "such service becomes prayer, a prayer even more welcome to God when your work is thankless, monotonous and tiring, especially during the night and in bad weather.
It is by doing their duty well," he concluded, "that each of the baptized achieves his or her vocation of sanctity."
Vatican City, Jan 15, 2009 (CNA) - An agreement between the Holy See and one of Germany’s federal states was made public on Wednesday afternoon. The agreement creates an understanding about the operation of Catholic schools, hospitals and other Church entities.
The agreement, which officially recognizes the role of the Church in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein was signed on January 12 in Kiel, Germany. Archbishop Jean-Claude Perisset, apostolic nuncio to Germany, signed for the Holy See and Peter Harry Carstensen, the minister-president of Schleswig-Holstein, signed for the state.
A communiqué issued by the Vatican’s press office says that, “Among other things it establishes norms for the teaching of Catholic religion in State schools; State recognition of Church-run schools; university education; Church activity in the fields of pastoral care, social work, healthcare and charity; ecclesiastical tax and the maintenance of church buildings which have the status of monuments.”
Schleswig-Holstein is the northernmost of Germany’s 16 states and is located between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.
Vatican City, Jan 15, 2009 (CNA) - The Holy Father has called a Synod of bishops from the Syriac Catholic Church to take place in Rome January 17 – 23 in order to elect a new Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians and of All the East.
The position of the supreme head of the Syriac Catholic Church has been vacant since the resignation of Patriarch Ignace Pierre VIII Abdel-Ahad was accepted in February 2008. The Patriarch had held the position since 2001.
In a statement from the Holy See, Pope Benedict explained that the Synod “will begin with two days of prayer and reflection and will be presided over by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches."
Bogotá, Colombia, Jan 15, 2009 (CNA) - The president of the Bishops’ Conference of Colombia, Bishop Ruben Salazar, said this week the bishops would “stay out” of the process of the release of six hostages promised by the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) if the rebel group is opposed to their involvement.
On Monday, before leaving for the United States, President Alvaro Uribe suggested that the international representative, which the rebels were demanding, could be named by Pope Benedict XVI or by the Colombian bishops.
But Bishop Salazar noted that “the FARC doesn’t see us as the most ideal mediators.” “They do not welcome the intervention of the Catholic Church. I don’t know what the role of the Church could be in this task of liberation,” he added.
Marxists Senator Piedad Cordoba, whom the FARC has chosen to be its mediator and is often the group’s spokesperson, said on Wednesday the rebel group would not accept the presence of a Vatican delegation in the process.
“The FARC is totally against that idea, as it does not trust the Catholic Church. At this time that is an obstacle that obviously is going to slow the process (of liberation) down a little,” she told the newspaper El Espectador.
Bishop Salazar said that although the Bishops are willing to offer their assistance, “We do not want to obstruct anything; we only want the hostages to be released. If we become an obstacle, we will step aside because we are not seeking to be the protagonists.”
Vatican City, Jan 15, 2009 (CNA) - During this week’s Wednesday General Audience, as the Sixth World Meeting of Families began in Mexico City, a group of French and Italian pilgrims gave Pope Benedict XVI a gift of relics of the beatified parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, Louis Guerin and Celie Martin.
According to the L’Osservatore Romano, before a crowd of more than 4,000, the Pope said the Martins, who saw five of their nine children enter the religious life, are “profound interpreters of the mystery of the love of Christ.”
The group of pilgrims was led by Msgr. Jean-Claude Boulanger, Msgr. Bernard Lagoutte, rector of the Shrine of Lisieux and Discalced Carmelite Father Antonio Sangalli, vice postulator of the Martin’s cause of canonization.
According to the L’Osservatore Romano, Pietro Schiliro and his family were also present at the audience. Pietro’s underdeveloped lungs were cured in 2002 through the intercession of the parents of St. Therese, and his cure proved to be the miracle that paved the way for their beatification.
The reliquary the Pope was given is made of silver with golden borders and contains two relics of the Martins joined together with a wedding ring.
The urn that contains the remains of the Martins and that will be brought to different places in Italy and Spain before being taken back to France is decorated with two roses representing both of them and nine lilies representing their nine children.
Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2009 (CNA) - The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ committee for migrants and refugees criticized as “meritless” an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit concerning a government contract awarded to the bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services for anti-human trafficking efforts.
Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, who chairs the Committee for Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), spoke regarding the ACLU of Massachusetts’ January 12 filing of a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The lawsuit claims that the HHS anti-human trafficking contract with the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services violates the separation of church and state by not funding abortion and contraception as part of its program.
Daniel Mach, ACLU Director of Litigation, argued that the Bush Administration allowed the USCCB "to impose its religious beliefs on trafficking victims by prohibiting sub grantees from ensuring access to services like emergency contraception, condoms, and abortion care."
Bishop Wester’s statement, published on Thursday, described as “second to none” the network of social services provided in the U.S. by the Catholic Church and MRS.
“HHS recognized this when it chose MRS to implement efforts to address the evil of human trafficking,” he continued, saying the HHS recognized that MRS efficiently provides “top-quality human services, in cooperation with numerous faith-based and non faith-based agencies.”
Bishop Wester reported that MRS served more than 1,100 clients between April 2006 and December 2008.
“Victims of trafficking—mostly women and children—desperately need access to the life-sustaining services provided under the program, such as food, shelter, legal services, coordination with law enforcement, medical screening, mental health care, safety planning, child care, employment assistance, and access to benefits upon eligibility such as refugee public benefits. These services uphold human dignity and the Church is eager to help provide them,” he continued.
“The ‘services’ that ACLU would force taxpayers to fund would assault, rather than advance, the dignity of these neediest people in our society,” Bishop Wester continued. “It does not help trafficking victims to disqualify the Church from working with HHS simply because the Church will not provide abortion and contraceptive services.”
The bishop argued that the lawsuit argument violates the “longstanding principle of religious liberty” to disqualify MRS or other religious providers from working with the government based upon the provider’s religious beliefs.
“It is ironic that this lawsuit purports to advance religious liberty. This claim is without merit,” he charged, saying the ACLU’s claim had already been addressed by the 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision Harris v. McRae.
He said the MRS limits barring funding of abortion or contraceptives by subcontractors express a long-standing “common-sense public policy” observed by both Democratic and Republican administrations.
“We hope and expect that the U.S. Department of Justice will mount a vigorous defense against such a meritless lawsuit, particularly one that threatens such harm to the weakest in our society, and to religious liberty,” Bishop Wester’s statement concluded.
The ACLU claimed that the bishops’ conference was awarded $6 million to assist the victims, but USCCB spokeswoman Sr. Mary Ann Walsh told Reuters that, although that amount was authorized, "far less" money had been appropriated.
West Hollywood, Calif., Jan 15, 2009 (CNA) - A new pro-life mini-movie showing the stages of development in an unborn child has been released by Catholic Media House.
The mini-movie, titled “The Miracle of Life,” asks the questions “When does Life Begin?” and “Do you know about the miracle of life?”
The movie also uses high-quality photographs of unborn life and ultrasound videos to humanize the unborn.
Using text captions, the movie explains how at conception, a baby’s physical traits such as sex, eye color, and hair color have already been determined. It adds that a baby’s heart starts to beat only 22 days after conception, “before most women even know they’re pregnant.”
Speaking of an unborn child, it says “by the 11th week, she can smile and frown, wiggle her fingers and toes, and even suck her thumb.”
The mini-movie then shows an ultrasound of an unborn child sucking her thumb, explaining that the child shows a clear preference for either its right or left thumb.
At 13 weeks, the video says, a baby’s ears start picking up vibrations and begins to be comforted by her mother’s heartbeat.
The video then appeals to Scripture, saying the Bible teaches us “God is the Creator of life.” It then quotes the Book of Jeremiah and the Psalms.
“Children are a blessing from God,” the video concludes. “Choose life.”
The West Hollywood-based Catholic Media House on its website says it wants to help efforts in the “New Evangelization” by providing “modern media resources to help convey the gospel and the hope it contains.”
“We strive to provide you with Catholic Christian resources faithful to the Holy Father and the Magisterium of the Church,” its self-description reads. “With these resources bishops, pastors, priests, deacons, religious brothers and sisters, catechists, youth directors, and teachers/instructors of all varieties are now able use media in a positive way to re-evangelize the baptized, disciple and mobilize them for evangelization and to be a blessing.”
CNA contacted Catholic Media House for further comment but received no response by press time.
Catholic Media House’s web site explains that its materials are intended to be used in Bible studies, retreats, camps, youth and children's ministry, RCIA, faith formation, rallies, or other special events outside Mass.
Its web site is located at http://www.catholicmediahouse.com
Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2009 (CNA) - The Vatican has just completed its report on the health of U.S. seminaries, which resulted from questions about the formation of priests brought on by the sexual abuse crisis. The report finds that most American seminaries are healthy and that seminarian morality has improved, particularly in regard to homosexual behavior.
The report from the Vatican’s Congregation of Catholic Institutions begins by explaining that the Apostolic Visits were intended to provide a snapshot of U.S. seminaries and religious houses of formation that focuses on the issue of ensuring the proper formation of priests.
The visits to the numerous seminaries and religious houses of formation took place between September 2005 and May 2006, with one institute being visited in July 2006. The delegations were headed by priests or bishops who were chosen through a joint USCCB and Vatican vetting process. The clergy were also joined by members of the laity who served as “resource persons.”
The apostolic visitation teams concluded that U.S. Catholic seminaries and houses of priestly formation are generally healthy but produced several recommendations on improving the discernment and education process.
"This visitation has demonstrated that, since the 1990s, a greater sense of stability now prevails in the U.S. seminaries," the report stated. "The appointment, over time, of rectors who are wise and faithful to the church has meant a gradual improvement, at least in the diocesan seminaries."
In fact, the seminary visitors found that rectors were already aware of the problems that are mentioned in the report and were working to resolve them.
The trouble spots highlighted by the report include: an “incomplete grasp” of the difference between the ordained priesthood and the priesthood of the laity; faculty who subvert the Church’s teachings; the need to screen seminary candidates for irregularities and impediments at the beginning of formation; a lack of supervision of seminarians by the rector and the bishop and a discouragement of traditional forms of piety.
One area sure to receive attention from media coverage is the area of seminarian’s moral behavior. The report sums up its findings on the matter by observing:“The apostolic visit was obliged to point out the difficulties, in the area of morality, that some seminaries have suffered in the past decades. Usually, but not exclusively, this meant homosexual behavior. Nevertheless, in almost all the institutes where problems existed, at least in the diocesan seminaries, the appointment of better superiors (especially rectors) has ensured that such difficulties have been overcome. Of course, here and there some case or other of immorality -- again, usually homosexual behavior -- continues to show up. However, in the main, the superiors now deal with these issues promptly and appropriately."
The report, which was made public on Wednesday, is dated December 15 and is signed by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, head of the Congregation for Catholic Education, which deals with seminaries and religious houses of formation. According to Catholic News Service, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops published it on their website to coincide with National Vocation Awareness Week, which began this past Monday.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, offered his reaction to the report in a letter to the U.S. bishops. "It is gratifying to read in the report that our seminaries are generally in a healthy condition that strongly promotes the formation of men for the sacred ministry in this country," he said.
"The general conclusions of the visitation are positive," Cardinal O'Malley noted. "I am sure that all bishops and religious superiors will take seriously the observations and recommendations of the congregation that will further strengthen our seminaries and houses of formation."
The full report on U.S. seminaries can be read at: http://www.usccb.org/cclv/final_report.pdf
Jerusalem, Israel, Jan 15, 2009 (CNA) - The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, led a procession for peace through the streets of Bethlehem with more than 800 children, who offered their prayers for the innocent victims of the conflict in Gaza.
According to a press release, bishops from the Holy Land Coordination of the Bishops’ Conferences of the United States and of Europe also participated in the procession, as they were in the region to promote “solidarity with local Christian communities and to share in the difficult pastoral life of the Church.”
At the end of the event, the Patriarch said, “In these days in which we are witnesses of the horror in Gaza, I say to all of you: violence, whatever its origin, and whatever its form, must be condemned.” “As we are gathered here in the name and in the spirit of the Prince of Peace, the Child who has been born to be the light of the world and the hope of all human beings, I want to condemn the violence in the Middle East, especially the attacks in the Gaza Strip,” he added.
Archbishop Twal later warned against the temptation of violence “because although it would seem it can resolve our problems,” it is only “a false hope. This violence only brings complications in the search for a just solution to the conflict, which is ardently desired by the people of this land and of the world.”
If you would like to help the Christians in the Holy Land, visit the following website to learn about an initiative to provide assistance, education and jobs to Christians in the holy places: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/holyland/
Madrid, Spain, Jan 15, 2009 (CNA) - The choir at the Minor Seminary of San Pelagio in Cordoba, Spain, has produced a new CD entitled, “Ofrece tu vida. Canciones para la catequesis” (Offer Your Life. Songs for Catechesis), which is intended to be “an instrument of evangelization for parishes, catechists, youth groups and children.”
The twelve-song CD was recorded by 33 young men aged 12-18 who make up the choir. Seminary officials said during the ceremony launching the new CD that the seminarians felt able to convey their joy “of feeling called by the Lord to be priests.”
The CD was produced will few resources but with much enthusiasm and generosity from supporters, they added.
The CD is intended to help bring people closer to Christ and to raise funds for the seminary.