San José, Costa Rica, Jan 27, 2009 (CNA) - Official state records in Costa Rica show that of all the weddings registered last year, only 21.08% were celebrated by Catholic priests, while 77.41% were officiated by a lawyer and 1.51% took place outside the country.
Last year, more than 25,000 weddings took place in all of Costa Rica, with some 10,000 divorces registered, 600 less than in 2007.
The data shows Catholic weddings have declined since 1995. In 1980, of every 100 marriages, 77 took place in the Church, whereas in 1995, that number dropped to 52 of every 100.
According to media reports, Church leaders in San Jose were disappointed with the statistics and said the decline is due to indifference among Costa Ricans to religious matters and the rejection of life-long commitments such as marriage.
“We must recognize that many couples prefer to enter into civil marriages today before getting married in the Church because of the bad example they have seen in their own homes,” Church officials said in a statement in which they also reaffirmed the importance of religious marriage for the good of the family.
Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2009 (CNA) - Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, on Friday was awarded one of six Life Prizes at a gala at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. Speaking about the pro-life movement, he encouraged pro-lifers to persevere and insisted that Catholic predictions about societal decline had proven correct.
Doerflinger spoke in an interview with Kathryn Jean-Lopez for National Review On-Line. In the interview, he encouraged pro-life Americans not to “despair and give up.”
“Our situation is similar to what it was in 1993: the White House and both chambers of Congress basically against us on the abortion issue. Our opponents thought they would soon reverse the Hyde amendment against federal abortion funding, begin funding destructive human embryo research, and pass the Freedom of Choice Act,” he told National Review Online.
“None of these things happened, and President Clinton’s repeated vetoes of a ban on partial-birth abortion only kept the horrors of abortion before the public’s eyes and increased pro-life sentiment. If we persevere, we will again show that the pro-life message is here to stay.”
He also argued that the Catholic Church has been proven right in its predictions about the direction changes would take in society.
“We said the widespread distribution of contraception would increase temptations to abortion and divorce, mislead people into thinking they could have sex without consequences, and threaten to trivialize sexuality. Is it possible to deny this has happened?
“We said depersonalizing reproduction through technologies such as in vitro fertilization would lead us to experiment on human embryos and tempt us to try human cloning. We said embryonic-stem-cell research was not only immoral but was being used to make promises of ‘miracle cures’ that people couldn’t keep,” he told National Review Online.
“In a way it’s frustrating to be right so often in these dire predictions, especially when hardly anyone ever comes back later and says ‘Gee, sorry, you Catholics were right.’”
While acknowledging some peoples’ disappointment that President George W. Bush did not do more for the pro-life cause, Doerflinger praised the former president’s appointment of a Supreme Court that upheld a partial-birth abortion ban.
“He single-handedly retained many pro-life policies by his veto threat against bad bills. He advanced the cause of faith-based initiatives and conscience rights in health care,” Doerflinger commented. “He changed the stem-cell-research debate by holding the line against destructive embryo research while promoting morally acceptable alternatives that are now showing tremendous progress.”
He then repeated warnings about the threat posed by the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), reporting that it would elevate abortion to a “fundamental” right and require government health programs that support childbirth to support abortion to the same extent.
The bill “would overturn hundreds of modest pro-life laws passed over the last 35 years—conscience clauses, public-funding restrictions, informed-consent and parental-involvement statutes, and so on,” he told National Review Online.
Addressing the state of stem cell research, Doerflinger said that adult and cord-blood stem cells have become the “gold standard for actually benefiting patients, with embryonic stem cells lagging far behind.”
He argued that even if embryonic stem cell research has any advantages, “even those advantages can be pursued as well or better” using cell reprogramming techniques that create induced pluripotent stem cells.
“However, just as the science is demonstrating that human embryo destruction is irrelevant to medical progress, that controversial avenue may receive a new infusion of money and attention for ideological reasons,” he commented, praising President Bush for his ban on federal funding for research that is destructive of human embryos.
“His policy enabled the morally sound alternatives to be pursued and funded, and these are now showing they can actually do many things better.”
Doerflinger said that in one sense pro-lifers have never done enough for children after they are born.
“That is one meaning of Jesus’ saying that ‘the poor you will always have with you.’”
“But the pro-life movement has established literally thousands of pregnancy-support centers and contributed perhaps millions of hours to this kind of support, usually unpaid hours. The Catholic Church’s hospitals and charitable institutions are unparalleled in their support for women and children in need. And we have supported many public policies to improve this support, including most recently the Pregnant Women Support Act being reintroduced in this Congress.”
Responding to charges that the pro-life movement is hypocritical because it is not doing enough after birth, he replied:
“Which is the deeper hypocrisy? What about a society that constructs a complete system of care and support for the child after birth then supports killing the child before he or she can benefit from any of it?”
Noting that pro-life case can be made through appeals to both faith and reason, he told National Review Online:
“For Catholics we can argue on faith grounds, and that adds an extra dimension because of God’s special love for those who are weakest and most defenseless. But to lawmakers and the general public we are very happy to make arguments that can be understood by any person of good will. To state a paradox, our faith tells us that respect for all human life from conception to natural death is not only a matter of faith.”
Calling the Life Prizes award being bestowed on him an “enormous surprise,” he said most of his work has been “behind the scenes” in writing, research and analysis, speaking with Congressional members and staff, and helping the bishops articulate their position.
“It is a great honor, especially when some of the other honorees have suffered enormous hardships or endangered their livelihoods by standing up for life. When all is said and done, I am paid to do what I love doing.”
Doerflinger suggested to National Review Online that the award grows out of a need to energize the next generation of pro-life advocates by providing role models for them.
“It’s humbling to think that some consider me that kind of role model. But in general I think an award program like this means the movement is maturing and settling in for the long haul, planting the seeds of the future.”
Havana, Cuba, Jan 27, 2009 (CNA) - In a statement issued last week, the Christian Liberation Movement, which works for the recognition of human rights in Cuba, praised the decision of President Barack Obama to close the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo, but noted that another prison in the same region of the island where hundreds of prisoners of conscience languish should not be forgotten.
"On previous occasions," the statement said, "we have expressed our position against the existence of [the U.S.] prison on Cuban soil," but "it is essential that we remember that a few kilometers from there, the horrible provincial Prison of Guantanamo is located. It is there that the government of Cuba has incarcerated and still holds Cuban citizens in inhumane conditions who were unjustly condemned for freely speaking, writing or collecting signatures for the Varela Project."
The CLM noted that there are still more than 200 prisoners of conscience in Cuba, and denounced "the hypocrisy of those who (rightly) condemn the prison camp at Guantanamo but consciously forget about the imprisonment of defenders of human rights at the other Guantanamo which is all Cuban prisoners."
The statement then recalled that at the Cuban prison of Guantanamo, the inmates include Jesus Mustafa Felipe, "who in 2003 was sentenced to an arbitrary condemnation of 18 months, and one day without any warning, he was taken from his cell, put on trial without legal representation and sentenced to another 25 years."
Vatican City, Jan 27, 2009 (CNA) - Benedict XVI has sent a message to participants in the national congress of the Italian Catholic Press Union (UCSI). The congress, held last week, commemorated the institution's fiftieth anniversary. In the message, the Pontiff writes about the importance of being faithful journalists, but also of living as a witness to Christ.
Reflecting on the last 50 years of the UCSI, the Holy Father notes that many things have changed. These changes have been "more visible in areas ranging from science to technology, from the economy to geopolitics,” he noted.
When examined at a deeper level, Pope Benedict finds “less perceptible” but “deeper and more worrying” developments in the modern culture. These changes include a notable decline in respect for the dignity of the individual, and in “a sense of such values as justice, freedom and solidarity, which are so essential for the survival of a society."
Today, the work of Catholic journalists is “even more arduous.” In addition to responsibility and service, journalists “must add an ever great professionalism, and a capacity for dialogue with the 'lay' world in the search for shared values."
Pope Benedict then speaks to the journalists on not only the importance of their faithful writing, but also the necessity of living their lives as witnesses to the Gospel. “You will be listened to more readily when the testimony of your own lives is coherent," the Holy Father assures them. “No small number of your 'lay' colleagues expect from you the silent witness - not only in appearance but in substance - of a life inspired by the values of faith."
Catholic journalists are committed to “an ever more demanding task,” the Holy Father continues, “one in which spaces for freedom are often under threat, and economic and political interests often take precedence over the spirit of service and the criterion of the common good.”
"I encourage you," he concludes, "not to make compromises in such important values but to have the courage of coherence, even at the cost of personal sacrifice. Serenity of conscience is a priceless quality."
Rome, Italy, Jan 27, 2009 (CNA) - The Vatican’s daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published an editorial Monday clarifying the scope and limits of the lifting of the excommunication of four bishops ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988. The editorial stressed that the gesture does not yet mean a return to “full communion” with the Church and moreover is a call to the “full acceptance of the Magisterium, obviously including the Second Vatican Council.”
“Benedict XVI has pronounced important words recalling that ‘the elderly among us also do not forget the first announcement of the Council made by John XXIII on January 25, 1959, exactly 50 years ago.’ It was a gesture that Pope Ratzinger today defines as a ‘providential decision’ prompted by the Holy Spirit and that our newspaper by no accident recalls with emphasis on the day of the lifting of the excommunication.”
The gesture of lifting the excommunication must be seen in light of the “conviction of the Council, an event inspired from on high,” the editorial stated. “The reform of the Council has not been completely implemented, but it is consolidated in such a way in the Catholic Church that it cannot enter into crisis over a magnanimous gesture of mercy, very much inspired in the new style of the Church desired by the Council that prefers the medicine of mercy to condemnation.”
The editorial goes on to point out that “the lifting of the excommunication that caused so many alarms does not end a painful path like that of the Lefebvrist schism. With this act the Pope clears the field of possible pretexts for infinite arguing, thus entering into the true problem: the full acceptance of the Magisterium, including obviously the Second Vatican Council. While it is true that the Catholic Church was not born at the Council, it is also true that the Church renewed by the Council is not another Church, but is the same Church of Christ, founded upon the Apostles, guaranteed by the successor of Peter and therefore a living part of the tradition. With the announcement of Pope John, tradition certainly did not disappear, but rather it continues today in the forms characteristic of a ministry and a Magisterium that have been updated by the great Council.”
“The lifting of the excommunication is not yet full communion,” the editorial clearly states.
L’Osservatore Romano’s editorial concludes by addressing the issue of Bishop Richard Williamson’s recent statements about the Holocaust. Bishop Williamson, who was only brought back into communion with the Roman Catholic Church on January 25, made comments to a Swedish television station in which he said he did not believe that Jews were gassed to death by the Nazis.
After noting that the declaration “Nostra aetate” deplores “the hatred, persecution and all manifestations of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews of any time and by any person” and that this is “a teaching for Catholics that is not open to opinion,” L’Osservatore Romano said that the recent statements of denial by the British bishop “contradict this teaching and are therefore seriously grave and lamentable. Made known before the document lifting the excommunication, they are thus—as we have written—unacceptable.”
Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2009 (CNA) - A $200 million provision for contraception programs is being dropped from the $825 billion stimulus package following criticism from pro-lifers and Republican congressmen.
President Barack Obama personally called House Democratic leaders to ask them to remove the provision, an Obama aide told CNN. One of his calls reportedly went to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and one of the most influential liberal members of Congress.
The president reportedly urged the provision’s removal because it was a hot button issue among Republicans and did not focus on creating jobs as quickly as possible.
The provision would have provided contraception to low-income families and removed a requirement that states seek permission from the federal government to provide family planning services for Medicaid recipients.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi entered into the fray in a weekend interview when she defended the allocation of millions as a cost reducing measure.
Pelosi also characterized the funding of the contraceptives as helping with the fiscal crisis. “The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children's health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those - one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government,” she said.
On Monday Fr. Thomas Euteneur of Human Life International criticized Pelosi’s justification of the proposal, charging that her argument reduced human beings to their economic value and also treated children as a hindrance to economic growth.
“What she and her fellow anti-life crusaders are doing is trying to sneak their destructive ideology into law by convincing the ignorant that it is fiscally necessary,” he charged in an e-mail to CNA.
Moscow, Russia, Jan 27, 2009 (CNA) - Meeting in Moscow today, the Russian Orthodox Church has elected Metropolitan Kirill as its new patriarch. Patriarch-elect Kirill’s election is being hailed as a boon for those seeking to buttress Orthodoxy against a spreading secularism.
According to the Associated Press, Metropolitan Kirill received 508 of the 700 votes cast. Prior to today’s election, Metropolitan Kirill was the most well-known candidate, having served as the head of the External Affairs Office for the Moscow patriarchate. Since the death of Patriarch Alexy II on December 5, 2008, he has functioned as the Patriarchal Locum Tenens or interim head of the church.
Father Joaquín Alliende, president of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), remarked on the differences between an ecclesiastical election and a secular election. Although the election of the new patriarch was conducted according to democratic principles, he explained, it was not merely a matter of obtaining a majority but rather of "listening to the blowing of the Holy Spirit and seeking to discern the will of God, the Lord of history."
Fr. Alliende also mentioned that ACN has enjoyed "fruitful contacts" with Patriarch-elect Kirill since 1992 and that he expects the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue to improve under Kirill. This intensified dialogue will enable the two churches to “together tackle the challenges of the present time that all Christians face," Fr. Alliende said.
Patriarch-elect Kirill will be installed on Sunday as the successor to Moscow Patriarch Alexy II, who is credited with a revival of the Orthodox Church in Russia and abroad.
The Russian Orthodox Church has 100 million adherents in Russia and several million more around the world.
Mexico City, Mexico, Jan 27, 2009 (CNA) - As of January 26, Mexico City has a new monument to Pope John Paul II. A large statue of the late Pontiff was unveiled to mark the 30th anniversary of his first visit to Mexico.
In the presence of Church officials, political and business leaders, the statue was unveiled, with a plaque at the bottom that reads: “The People of Mexico commemorate 30 years since the first visit of His Holiness John Paul II.”
Donated by a group of Catholic faithful, the bronze statue was fashioned in Mexico City by Mexican artist Marcelino Mandujano and is seven and a half feet tall.
Menzingen, Switzerland, Jan 27, 2009 (CNA) - Today the leader of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, apologized to Pope Benedict XVI for comments made by Bishop Richard Williamson in which he denied the Holocaust during an interview on Swedish television last week.
According to Reuters, Bishop Williamson’s remarks sparked widespread criticism by Jewish communities, especially since they came on the eve of his reconciliation with the Catholic Church. On Saturday, the Holy Father lifted the excommunication of Bishops Williamson, Fellay and two other prelates from the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) who were ordained by Marcel Lefebvre in 1988.
Bishop Fellay’s statement explains that last week, Bishop Williamson expressed his opinions “on questions of history, especially to the murder of Jews by the Nazis.” Bishop Fellay notes in his letter that a bishop’s authority pertains only to questions of Faith and Morals, not over “historic or other secular questions.”
The prelate then addresses the mission of SSPX as “the distribution and restoration of authentic Catholic teaching and how it is laid down in dogmas,” before expressing his apologies to Pope Benedict.
“We are deeply pained to see how much damage the violation of this mandate has done to our mission. … We ask forgiveness of the Sovereign Pontiff and of all people of good will for the dramatic consequences of such an act.”
Bishop Fellay also describes how he is placing restrictions on Bishop Williamson by prohibiting him from “speaking in public on political or historic questions.” He also adds that “these remarks in no manner represent the views of our fraternity.”