Archive of January 25, 2009

Lebanese Christians protest rosary depicting Hezbollah leader

Beirut, Lebanon, Jan 25, 2009 (CNA) - Rosaries bearing a picture of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah have provoked controversy in Lebanon’s Christian community, whose members say the depiction is insulting.

Christians are set to play a significant political role in Lebanon’s Shiite-Sunni power struggle through the June 2009 parliamentary elections, the Middle East Times reports. Hezbollah is a mainly Shiite Islamic party.

"The rosaries are an insult to our Christian beliefs," an official with the Christian Lebanese Forces party said on Thursday, according to Alarab Online.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, she characterized the rosaries as “an attempt to influence public opinion within the Christian community so that people get used to seeing a photo of Nasrallah next to the Virgin Mary or saints.”

The official said the Lebanese Forces are not accusing Hezbollah of producing the rosaries, but feel that the party needs to take action to prevent their distribution.

A Hezbollah official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the party had nothing to do with the rosaries. According to Alarab Online, he accused the rival Lebanese Forces of trying to create dissension among religious communities.

"Why is Nasrallah guilty if people decide to put his picture on rosaries?" the Hezbollah official said. "This issue is dangerous."

Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, head of the Maronite Catholic Church in Lebanon, weighed in on the issue saying that politics and religion should not be mixed.

Last November, Lebanese filmmaker Jocelyne Saab was ordered to remove some of her photo exhibition’s pictures which were deemed controversial, such as one depicting Nasrallah alongside Christ on a crucifix.

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Leading bioethics thinker ponders whether Obama will consult pro-life ethicists

Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2009 (CNA) - Robert P. George, a Princeton law professor and member of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, has written an essay asking whether President Barack Obama will be open to including pro-life thinkers among his bioethics advisers.

President George W. Bush created the President’s Council on Bioethics through a November, 2001 Executive Order. Its mission is to “advise the President on bioethical issues that may emerge as a consequence of advances in biomedical science and technology.”

The Council may study issues “such as embryo and stem cell research, assisted reproduction, cloning, uses of knowledge and techniques derived from human genetics or the neurosciences, and end of life issues.”

In the essay “A Diverse Bioethics Council?” published Jan. 23 on the web site The Public Discourse, Robert P. George reported that in 2002 when President Bush announced his appointees to the President’s Council on Bioethics, liberal bioethicists claimed that the president had “stacked” the council with “religious conservatives” who shared his views on embryonic stem cell research and “therapeutic” cloning.

“More than a few media outlets reported this claim as if it were a fact. It was, however, a spectacular falsehood,” Prof. George claimed. He said that “nearly half” of the appointees “fundamentally disagreed” with the president on such key issues.

“The Bush council, chaired by Dr. Leon Kass, was the most intellectually and ideologically diverse bioethics advisory body ever constituted—far more diverse than its predecessor, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission under President Bill Clinton,” he argued.

Prof. George reported that six members favored the production of human embryos for biomedical research in which the embryos would be destroyed. At least three other members were “not in principle opposed” to “therapeutic” cloning, but supported a four-year moratorium in the hope that alternative technologies not involving cloning could be developed.

Still another member opposed the deliberate creation of embryos for destructive research, but supported revoking President Bush’s restrictions on the use of embryos “left unused” by in-vitro fertilization treatments.

George himself is a pro-life Catholic thinker who recently co-authored the book “Embryo: A Defense of Human Life.” There, he argued that human personhood begins at conception and should be respected from its beginning.

“Although President Bush got no credit for it,” George wrote, “he had created a council that represented the range of viewpoints held by reasonable and responsible Americans on the most urgent and divisive bioethics questions facing the country.”

“This enabled his council to produce reports that improved the quality of public debate by equipping citizens and policy makers with solid factual information vetted by experts representing different points of view on key ethical questions, and informing them of the best arguments available on competing sides of hot-button issues.”

Noting that it is likely President Obama will constitute a bioethics advisory council of his own, George asked: “When he does, will he favor the country with a council as diverse as his predecessor’s? … Will nearly half hold strong pro-life views that contradict the President’s own beliefs about the moral status of the human embryo and related questions? Will Obama be as open to differing perspectives and ideas as Bush was?”

George wondered whether, should President Obama’s council not be so open, those critics who complained about a Bush council “stacked” with “religious conservatives” will be consistent in their criticism.

Referring to accusations of pro-Obama media bias, he said reporting on the president’s choice of bioethics advisors will be “a straightforward and decisive test of the media’s objectivity.”

If President Obama, unlike President Bush, stacks his bioethics council with those who agree with him, Prof. George wondered whether the public will be told or whether the media will apply a double standard.

“If Obama stacks his council with social liberals, will the contrast with the Bush council be noted? Or will the media implicitly adopt the view that a council stacked with liberals isn’t really ‘stacked’?” George asked.

George advocated that future Republican and conservative presidents follow President Obama’s lead. An appointment of a diverse council, he argued, would ratify an “entirely noble way” of “using bioethics advisory councils to enhance the overall quality of deliberation and debate.”

A restricted range of voices on an Obama bioethics council, George claimed, would make bioethics councils “advance the president’s own preordained agenda on bioethics questions” and not “provide thoughtful argumentation enriched by the inclusion of perspectives that are critical of the president’s beliefs.”

“If President Obama pushes aside Bush’s openness to a council that will provide him with a diversity of ideas and opinions, he and his party should not be permitted to benefit from a double standard,” George’s essay in The Public Discourse concluded. “When the Republicans return to power, as sooner or later they will, this is one area in which they should follow Obama’s lead—in either direction.”

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Holy Father emphasizes the importance of continuous conversion

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2009 (CNA) - Before reciting the Angelus at noon, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, which the Church celebrates today. The Pope stressed that Paul’s meeting with the Risen Christ "radically changed" the saint’s life.

"On the way to Damascus what happened to Paul is what Jesus calls for in today’s Gospel," the Pontiff said. "Saul converted because, thanks to divine light, he believed in the Gospel."

"This is his and our conversion: believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus and opening ourselves to the light of divine grace," he continued. "In that moment Saul understood that his salvation did not depend on good deeds performed in accordance with the Law, but in the fact that Jesus also died for him, the persecutor, and had risen."

Pope Benedict explained that converting means that Jesus has given himself up for each one of us. The Pope noted, "By putting my trust in the power of Jesus’ remission and letting myself be taken by His hand, I can escape the quick sands of pride and sin, lies and sadness, selfishness and false security, to find out and live the richness of his love."

"We Christians have not yet achieved the goal of full unity," Pope Benedict added, "but if we allow ourselves to be continuously converted by the Lord Jesus we shall certainly get there."

At the end of the Angelus, the Holy Father mentioned the 56th World Leprosy Day.

"I am happy," said the Pontiff, "that the United Nations, in a recent statement by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has urged states to protect people living with leprosy and their families. For my part, I can assure them that they are in my prayers, and I encourage once more all those who are fighting by their side for their complete recovery and social integration."

Pope Benedict also extended his best wishes for the Chinese New: "The peoples of the various countries of East Asia are preparing to celebrate the Lunar New Year. To them I express my Best Wishes that they may experience this celebration in joy. Joy is the expression of when we are in harmony with ourselves. And this can only come when we are in harmony with God and his creation. May joy always be alive in the hearts of all the citizens of these nations, so dear to me; may it shine around the world!"

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Obama's pro-abortion executive order creates first clash with Vatican

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2009 (CNA) - The first sign of Vatican disappointment with the Obama administration came on Saturday, when Holy See officials reacted to the President’s executive order reversing the Mexico City policy, thus making federal money available to promote abortion internationally.

Obama signed the executive order canceling the eight-year-old restrictions on Friday, the third day of his presidency.

In an interview published Saturday in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Rino Fisichella said that "among the many good things that he could have done, Barack Obama instead has chosen the worst."

"What is important is to know how to listen... without locking oneself into ideological visions with the arrogance of a person who, having the power, thinks they can decide on life and death," he added.

"If this is one of the first acts of President Obama, with all due respect, it seems to me that the path towards disappointment will have been very short," Archbishop Fisichella said.

He concluded by pointing out that "I do not believe that those who voted for him (Obama) took into consideration ethical themes, which were astutely left aside during the election debate. The majority of the American population does not take the same position as the president and his team."

Another Vatican official, Archbishop Elio Sgreccia, joined Fisichella in his criticism to Obama’s pro-abortion decision.

Although retired as former President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Sgreccia's is still one of the most sought after opinions on bioethical issues in the Roma Curia.

"This deals a harsh blow not only to us Catholics but to all the people across the world that fight against the slaughter of innocents that is carried out with abortion," Sgreccia told the Italian news agency ANSA .

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